Monday, March 1, 2004

WebSphere, grid computing, and China


By David Gewirtz

For those of you old enough to have been in the computer industry back in the '80s, you might think of Grid Computing as a weird, little tablet computer that never really went anywhere, except to launch the careers of PalmOne's founders.

But, here in the 21st Century, grid computing means something wholly different. According to the Consulting Times Glossary, grid computing is "A means of network computing that harnesses the unused processing cycles of numerous computers, to solve intensive problems that are often too large for a single computer to handle, such as in life sciences or climate modeling."

Probably the most notable example of this extremely loosely-coupled form of networking is the SETI@Home project, where thousands of Mulder-wannabees host a little application on their PCs that crunches data for the SETI (meaning Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project, attempting to determine if there really is intelligent life "out there."

Personally, I'm still searching for intelligent life here on Earth, but that's most likely because I've been following the presidential non-campaign here in the U.S. way too closely. But, I digress.

WebSphere's grid computing

IBM's been working hard to add grid-computing capabilities to high-end editions of WebSphere Application Server, with the goal of giving enterprise customers the ability to do better clustering of widely-flung Web application servers.

IBM's pretty serious about this, it seems, because they even have a VP in charge of grid computing strategy, one Dan Powers. According to Powers, "This is something to bring grid capabilities to commercial customers. It's about the ability to balance Web server workloads in a more dynamic way than has ever been possible before."

That's shagadelic, Baby!

In a sense, the idea of grid computing is that there are a ton of boxes available on the "grid," and big, honker applications can pull computing power from the computers on the grid, almost in an analog to the way the electrical power grid delivers electricity.By virtualizing the resources available across an entire grid of WebSphere servers, the new technology -- called IBM Server Allocation for WebSphere Application Server -- allows customers to significantly and simultaneously increase application performance and resource utilization.