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IBM stretches grid business

Big Blue is reaching out to several new types of customers with offers that link groups of computers and storage systems to tackle difficult computing tasks.

IBM has expanded its effort to commercialize the formerly academic concept of grids, groups of computers and storage systems linked together to tackle difficult computing tasks.

IBM will announce Monday that it has sold grid systems to three major customers--RBC Insurance, Kansei Electric Power and Royal Dutch Shell--and is offering grid technology packages for four new types of customers. Big Blue also signed on several new software partners as well as Cisco Systems, which will provide switching equipment for grid data storage.

RBC Insurance is using a grid with Intel-based servers from IBM and software to improve a program involved with actuarial information--the statistics that determine risks and insurance rates. Kansei's grid integrates information stored across the electric company's different departments. And Royal Dutch Shell is using IBM's Intel-based servers and Globus software to process seismic data for oil and gas searches.

Grid computing began in academic and government circles such as the University of Southern California and Argonne National Laboratory. Under the coaxing of IBM, Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard and others, grid computing has been moving into the commercial realm.

IBM initially is trying to sell grids to organizations with a need for supercomputing systems not far removed from the ones found in the academic realm. However, the company believes grids also will be used for general business computing equipment.

IBM hopes to profit not only by selling hardware, software and storage systems out of which grids can be built, but also by renting out access to its own grid equipment.

IBM's four new packages are tailored for the agricultural-chemical industry, electronic design and engineering, university research, and petrochemical industry research.

The packages supplement others IBM released in January for several other grid customer types, including financial services, life sciences, governments, and automotive and aerospace design.

Under the partnership with Cisco, IBM will sell the company's MDS 9000 switch, which connects servers to special-purpose storage area networks.

Grid software partnerships include deals with Cadence for electronic engineering, Landmark Graphics for oil and gas research, Calypso Technology for financial services, Accelrys for life sciences, and MSC.Software for mechanical engineering and manufacturing.