In a recent article (October 18, 2004 issue), Business Week wrote that grids were going mainstream: Grids allow processing jobs to be split up and farmed out over a network to many computers so the work can be done fast on any machine that’s available — and organizations can trim their hardware and labor costs. For years most grids were used for scientific research. But that’s changing. Analysts say 300 to 500 grids have been set up by — or for — businesses in the past year or so. And more are on the way. Of 149 large North American companies surveyed recently by Forrester Research Inc., 37% have set up grids, and 30% are actively considering it.
The article added: The dream is to tap into grids as we now plug appliances into outlets. That goal is years off. The technologies are immature, security must be improved, and all the standards aren’t yet in place. This will be one of those advances that takes many years to make its full impact felt. But for many corporate computer users, it will be worth the wait.
In a recent survey on IT, The Economist wrote that the next thing in technology is the conquest of complexity.
Steven Milunovich, an analyst at Merrill Lynch, another bank, offers a further reason why simplicity is only now becoming a big issue. He argues that the IT industry progresses in 15-year waves. In the first wave, during the 1970s and early 1980s, companies installed big mainframe computers; in the second wave, they put in PCs that were hooked up to server computers in the basement; and in the third wave, which is breaking now, they are beginning to connect every gadget that employees might use, from hand-held computers to mobile phones, to the internet.
The mainframe era, says Mr Milunovich, was dominated by proprietary technology (above all, IBM’s), used mostly to automate the back offices of companies, so the number of people actually working with it was small. In the PC era, de facto standards (ie, Microsoft’s) ruled, and technology was used for word processors and spreadsheets to make companies’ front offices more productive, so the number of people using technology multiplied tenfold. And in the internet era, Mr Milunovich says, de jure standards (those agreed on by industry consortia) are taking over, and every single employee will be expected to use technology, resulting in another tenfold increase in numbers.
Moreover, the boundaries between office, car and home will become increasingly blurred and will eventually disappear altogether. In rich countries, virtually the entire population will be expected to be permanently connected to the internet, both as employees and as consumers. This will at last make IT pervasive and ubiquitous, like electricity or telephones before it, so the emphasis will shift towards making gadgets and networks simple to use.
As we look ahead, the question is: can the technologies used for grid computing be deployed not just to provide supercomputing to corporates and institutions in the developed markets, but basic computing for users in emerging markets.
Anurag Shankar wrote: Grid computing is the ultimate ‘killer’ technolgy. It holds the potential to do no less than to bring down barriers between countries and to join the world in the community that it actually is – most people just don’t realize it yet.
This is where our story begins. How can we use the developments in grid computing to create a utility that can deliver all the services that network computers need for as little as $2 (Rs 100) per user per month?
TECH TALK CommPuting Grid+T