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Fiorina: Grid computing overhyped

The grid idea seems to have sped through all the phases of a new technology's life cycle at OracleWorld, inspiring breathless exuberance and sober reassessment in just four days.

SAN FRANCISCO--Grid computing appears to have sped through all the phases of a new technology's life cycle at this week's OracleWorld conference, inspiring both breathless exuberance and sober reassessment in the course of just four days.

On Thursday, the final day of the conference, Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina said in a speech that grid computing held promise but was in danger of being overexposed and misunderstood. "Grid computing has been more hype than reality," she said.

The much-ballyhooed technology, which was the theme of OracleWorld this week, involves pooling the computing power of hundreds of servers over a network to run programs more reliably and reduce the cost of maintaining data centers.

Fiorina said much work lies ahead in bringing the vision of grid computing to the average business user, with technical standards and other wrinkles still needing to be ironed out. She predicted it would take three to five years before companies use grid computing as the foundation of their payroll and other business systems.

Fiorina also sought to draw a line between grid computing and distributed computing, the latter being a more than 20-year-old concept, she said. Grid computing also goes farther than Oracle's Real Application Clustering technology, which lets companies tie multiple servers together in case one of them fails. "A nice RAC doesn't get you very far," Fiorina said, eliciting some laughs from the mostly male audience.

Fiorina wasn't the only one lamenting the hype over grid computing. Listening to a keynote speech given by Oracle Chief Executive Larry Ellison Tuesday, one Oracle customer said grid computing is the next big thing "until Larry Ellison thinks of something else next year." The customer, representing a Fortune 500 manufacturer, wished to remain anonymous.

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Fiorina at OracleWorld: Getting fit for grid computing
Carly Fiorina, CEO, Hewlett-Packard

Oracle and its allies say grid computing is different from preceding technologies because it will allow business programs, such as those dealing with payroll and order processing, to share processing power. Today, most business systems require costly "islands of computation," with each program needing its own set of dedicated machines equipped for peak data-crunching loads at all times.

HP hopes grid computing will translate to sales as the company introduces special storage systems, systems-management tools, consulting services and even consumer electronics that make grids work, Fiorina said. The concept also supports HP's new "adaptive enterprise" initiative, the company's answer to IBM's "utility computing" message. Whatever their highfalutin names, all three concepts appear aimed at helping companies reduce wasted computing resources.

For any doubters, Fiorina also offered this thought: "We do believe grid computing is real--it's driving research in this industry."