Grid technology has exciting potential but is too new to allow anyone to say for sure how vendors will package it into products and services or what a market for it would look like.
The technology, in forms such as IBM's Grid Computing Initiative or Sun Microsystems' Grid Engine Project, would allow companies to optimize their use of computing power from machines hooked to a network or the Internet. It can work for both PCs and servers. At any one time, a worker typically uses only a portion of his PC's available computing power. Grid technology would allow a company to tap that unused power to run other applications. For instance, the SETI@home project uses donated PC power to search for signs of alien life.
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The technology will appeal to businesses that face increasing pressure to maximize their return on IT investments. Gartner forecasts that businesses will eventually buy their IT infrastructure and applications from vendors that will act as "IT utilities." Compaq Computer made a step in this direction recently with its Computing on Demand initiative. But hardware vendors today can extend capacity-on-demand programs only through companies buying servers with numerous processors installed that they can turn on--and pay for--when needed. Alternatively, companies can rent servers from Web hosters and outsourcers.
Grid technology promises much more flexibility. Businesses could easily increase or decrease their use of computing power to meet the business needs of the moment--much as they do now with the electric power supplied by a utility company.
However, grid technology will not become widely available soon. It will take some time to mature into mainstream products and services. Sun and IBM have started only a handful of projects between them in the United States and Europe. The earliest pilot began 18 months ago, and the vendors only just recently started telling the industry about them.
To date, large projects have remained in the realm of scientific researchers. One example is the European DataGrid Initiative, led by CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. This project will run for three years, from 2001 to 2003, and will receive funding to the tune of $8.6 million (9.8 million euros).
Vendors need to build and make known key reference accounts and do much more marketing before they make a serious push to sell to businesses. The price of the products and services that are eventually offered will have to provide cost savings for businesses over, say, conventional outsourcing. Gartner believes that grid technology will need several years before it picks up real momentum in the market.
(For a related commentary on server scaling, see Gartner.com.)
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