Hewlett-Packard on Thursday launched a new services program designed to help customers build and maintain computer grids, and said it would equip its entire product line with grid capabilities.
Grids are essentially collections of computers or computer networks, connected in a way that allows for sharing of processing power and storage as well as applications and data.
Grids are often used to interconnect scientists who are collaborating on research. But HP and competitors like IBM believe that grids have a wider application for businesses. HP has suggested that grids can help businesses solve problems such as responding to increased workloads by streamlining the companies' ability to tap additional computing resources, such as processing power, on an as-needed basis.
"Every (product) is going to be grid-enabled within the next 18 to 24 months," said Nora Denzel, senior vice president of software for HP. "This is our stake in the ground."
For instance, servers, storage devices and PCs will come with software that will let a grid automatically discover the PC or device once it's plugged into a network, and HP's OpenView software--augmented by Wednesday's acquisition of Talking Blocks--will be able to manage software that moves fluidly from one system to another on a grid, she said.
Services that range from modest studies of how an organization might install a grid on existing equipment to full-on outsourcing deals are a key part of HP's new program, Denzel said. She said it's impossible to give pricing for the services because they could vary greatly from customer to customer.
HP's Enterprise Grid Consulting program, which falls under the umbrella of the company's Adaptive Enterprise computing on-demand strategy, is intended to help customers implement and manage their own grids, HP said in a statement.
The program will also offer customers the option to purchase an ongoing grid-related support program from HP, the company said.
The new Enterprise Grid Consulting program joins several other grid-related software programs and other company products.
Also fitting into the grid work is an HP project called SmartFrog (Smart Framework for Object Groups), which is a convenient graphical interface that lets administrators easily attach resources to a grid or detach them. The project is at HP Labs, but the company plans to release it as a separate product, Denzel said.
An existing HP product that dovetails with grid work is its Utility Data Center, which pools servers and storage systems and lets administrators move tasks between different systems as business demands shift. UDC is one of the best-developed versions of the concept of utility computing, analysts say, but only a few customers have set up the complex system.
UDC has been merged with grid technology so the standards used to control grids can also govern UDC, Denzel said.
Grids are popular in academic settings, but the day when they're used to manage conventional business tasks is farther away. That's even more the case for a situation in which a company would use public-grid computing resources.
"We're probably five years away from seeing a massive public grid," Denzel said. "There definitely are pockets of leading early adopters who have decided to embrace grids....But in terms of e-mail servers or basic processing in a commercial environment, it's really starting now slowly."
There are ways that utility computing and grid technology will be useful sooner, though, said Mary McDowell, a former Intel server executive who now heads HP's strategic planning effort. The challenge for companies that are looking to sell utility computing is building a bridge between what customers want to buy today and long-term visions such as HP's Adaptive Enterprise.
McDowell said Wednesday that customers today are mostly interested in technologies that will automate mundane, labor-intensive tasks. "That is the key near-term opportunity," she said.
In the longer term, she sees a market for technology that can react to changing business climates and needs. "Bringing that to volume and making that replicable for businesses of all sizes is going to be one of our key opportunities."
CNET News.com's Ina Fried contributed to this report.