Recently, the computer industry has shown increasing interest in the idea of distributed computing in peer-to-peer, loosely coupled networks called the Grid. Such networks, uniting various computing centers and computers of enthusiasts, have long been successfully used to solve scientific problems that require enormous computing power, for example, in space exploration, to search for primes, decipher the human genome, create new drugs, etc. However, not so long ago such giants of the industry as IBM, Sun, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard became interested in this technology, and the analytical company IDC called Grid one of the most promising directions for 2020-2030. What is the reason for this attention?
What is Grid
According to analysts, Grid paves the way for the creation of next-generation enterprise systems, with a decentralized architecture, unlike the current ones, which allows enterprises to easily interact with partners, customers and suppliers, who will help them organize their business more efficiently, which is important for surviving a competitive struggle. The Grid concept has another major advantage – economic. With its help, you can use the resources of corporate computers more efficiently – now they are used on average by only 15-20%. And this is already pure savings, which will continue to grow in the future, because the computing power of a PC, according to Moore’s law, doubles every 18 months. Businesses regularly update their computers, but fail to fully realize their growing capabilities. One more useful feature of the new technology should be mentioned – the convenience of connecting to the system. It is believed that connecting any computer to the Grid and immediately accessing the necessary resources is as simple as plugging into a power outlet. What is this miracle technology that holds such tempting prospects?
Grid work on the example of the Butterfly.net gaming network
Using Grid technology, Butterfly.net has built a network that dynamically allocates free resources on connected computers, allowing thousands of users to simultaneously play with each other over the Internet.
- Using the Globus Toolkit and WEB-services, the game developer submits the codes, graphics and video files of the game to the Butterfly.net test center.
- The game program enters the Grid network including gateways, controllers and servers for games and databases.
- Globus Toolkit monitors the parks and distributes the workload among idle resources.
- A player purchases a video game that includes Butterfly client libraries that users use to register when they log in. Gaming service providers share the account information of the players.
The idea of distributed processing is far from new. It was born at the dawn of the computing era, in the 70s of the last century, when two industries began to converge: telecommunications and computer, but then underwent significant changes and now has a new embodiment. A Grid is a collection of networked computers that share workload among themselves. At the same time, neither the number of computers, nor the distance between them is limited. The system can also include storage devices and networking equipment. Thus, the concept of Grid, although it is a form of distributed computing, in one important aspect, it is still truly innovative. After all, it allows you to build systems that not only cover many organizations and various computer platforms, but also have a truly planetary scale. Naturally, such an architecture requires specialized control programs and broadband communication lines, and since we are talking about combining heterogeneous systems, standards are needed to ensure their interaction. Now such standards are starting to emerge, but the main work is still ahead.
Because the definition of Grid technology is very general, companies implement it in a variety of ways. So, Sun Microsystems promotes software for creating Grid-clusters and already has more than 6,000 customers. Entropia, United Devices, and others are focusing on building Grid networks from PCs. IBM is focusing on using this technology to develop Web services and autonomous self-governing systems. SGI invites users to collaborate remotely on large sets of 3D images. Platform Computing, a pioneer in this field, provides tools for building heterogeneous corporate Grid systems with extensive resource sharing and management capabilities. However, despite the clear differences, all of these proposals embody a common idea: the inclusion of different types of computers in a single system for sharing resources in order to improve overall performance and scalability and enable users to collaborate with data.
Where does Grid apply
As already noted, now the Grid technology is most widely used to solve problems that require intensive computational processing, for example, for complex modeling in the development of new drugs, calculation of financial risks, design automation, etc. It is for these purposes that numerous Grid supercomputers. In the United States, the TeraGrid project is being implemented, for which the National Science Foundation allocated $ 53 million. TeraGrid will unite American computing centers into one huge Grid supercomputer with a capacity of 20 teraflops. The UK has gone a step further with a £ 120m eScience initiative to create a grid infrastructure for scientific and technical computing. Another interesting project is being implemented in this country – the CosmoGrid network, covering the computing centers of Cambridge and other universities and designed to build a historical model of the development of the Universe. The European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) is developing the DataGrid system, funded by the European Union, which serves to process data in high energy physics, biology and Earth observation.
These are not all, but only the most significant Grid projects for scientific purposes. In fact, there are a great many of them, since historically this technology has received the greatest development in the scientific field. However, commercial projects are gradually starting to appear. One of them is the gaming Grid, created by Butterfly.net in partnership with IBM. In it, the computing load from computer games with a large number of participants is distributed over a network that combines server farms located in IBM computing centers. With this network, game developers can quickly deploy their new creations, and thousands of users can simultaneously play with each other over the Internet, dynamically obtaining the necessary resources depending on the needs. This example is far from the only one. The popularity of grid technology among enterprises is growing. So, last year, four times more Grid projects were implemented than the year before (although their number is still measured in double digits). It is possible that interest in the technology has spurred the attention that IBM has given it lately. But in addition to the Blue Giant, other leading and start-up companies also make grid products.