After years of hype about the benefits promised by grid computing systems capable of ensuring firms only deploy computing power as and when they need it, experts predict next year will see a major breakthrough for the technology.
I know, I know, that is a sentence that could have been written at the end of every year since the mid-nineties. But according to Ian Osborne, project director of the DTI and Intellect's joint Grid Computing Now! knowledge transfer initiative, grid computing's time is finally coming and it is being driven by the technology's ability to deliver sizable improvements to firm's energy efficiency.
"You simply can’t ignore your energy bill as an IT director anymore," said Osborne. "And that means you've either got to replace all your infrastructure or find a way to get more computing power out of your existing systems without increasing power demands – grid and in particular virtualisation allows you to do that."
Osborne argued that internal grids - whereby firms use virtualisation and middleware technologies to link distributed hardware into a grid that can be treated as one central machine - allows firms to drive up the utilisation rates of their hardware, ensuring they no longer have to buy in new systems that would further increase their energy and cooling needs.
"Currently most PCs are running at 5 percent utilisation and most servers less than 20 percent," he said. "A grid approach can help you drive up that utilisation."
According to Osborne, setting up an internal grid also lays the ground work for firms to take advantage of utility computing services from suppliers such as Sun Microsystems and Amazon. These utility computing systems allow firms to buy in extra computing capacity as and when required. In theory, this approach further enhances firms' energy efficiency - partly because specialist suppliers should be optimising their datacentres to achieve extremely high utilisations rates and partly because it means the customer does not need extra hardware sitting around in case of a peak in demand for computing power.
Despite the recent growth in this sector any prediction that utility and grid computing is about to enjoy a surge of interest is certainly to be treated with suspicion given the number of false starts the technology has endured. However, Osborne is right to suggest that the environmental and commercial pressure on IT directors to improve their energy efficiency is likely to make many of them reconsider the advantages grid systems can offer.
Anyone interested in finding out more about the business case for grid computing can register to attend a web seminar on the topic being run by Grid Computing Now! next Tuesday.
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