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Opinion - Transferring technology: grids in business

Opinion - Transferring technology: grids in business

Thanks to grids, three-dimensional images can be much easier for humans to comprehend - important for oil exploration when peering underground, as seen here in this image created with Reservoir, a grid program developed by CGGVeritas using an interface developed by NICE, a company specializing in grid and cloud solutions. Image courtesy CGGVeritas

(Editor's note: The following is excerpted from the newly released GridBriefing from GridTalk, on grids moving from academia to business.)

While grid computing today is used in many academic disciplines, from high-energy physics to geosciences, grids are still under-represented in the commercial world.

So, why should businesses use the grid?

Grids do not have to be as large as continent-wide infrastructures such as EGEE in Europe or EELA in Latin America. They can be adopted on a much smaller scale by one department or one office. In the business world, there is large potential for grid use in small and medium enterprises (SMEs), as well as in bigger, more complex organizations.

Grid technologies can enable companies to gain more efficient usage of resources. For companies who can't afford to purchase more computing power, grids offer a way to make better use of what is already available, opening the door to large-scale processing that may otherwise be out of reach.

"SMEs that can't afford to buy access to large-scale facilities could use grid technology to make better use of the resources they have or maybe even share resources with other SMEs that they have good relations with," says Owen Appleton of Emergence Tech. "There's also a lot of potential for the spread of the grid into the public sector, such as hospitals, schools and university departments - that aren't already gridded up."

Unexpected benefits of the grid

The largest benefit for industry may be social rather than technological. Thanks to grids, users can gain easy access to shared resources and data, no matter what their location. Through virtual organizations, grids are able to empower distributed communities. Virtual organizations give geographically dispersed groups the opportunity to share, discuss and form close-knit collaborations.

Together with a number of medical institutions, GridwiseTech has used this approach to help hospitals form better collaborations for carrying out medical research. The company's AdHoc software made setting up and managing a virtual organization simple and intuitive, thanks to an easy-to-use interface. "Advanced international scientific consortia need to set up ad-hoc collaborations," says Andrea De Luca, a clinician and researcher at the Institute of Clinical Infectious Diseases, Catholic University of Rome, Italy. "For this reason, we used the concept of virtual organizations, introduced by international grid projects."

By using an internal grid of a couple of hundred processors, drug discovery company e-Therapeutics was able to analyze a database of 15 million compounds and 2.6

million proteins. "Using this kind of approach has led to more productivity with very little money," said Malcolm Young, the company's CEO. "As a scalable process, the use of e-science oriented computing could completely change the economics of drug discovery." Image courtesy e-Therapeutics

What are the hurdles?

Moving from a research to industrial environment is not easy, and the commercialization of grids is no exception. Grid services and applications are not always easy or intuitive to use, and are complicated to set up and harmonize with systems and practices already in place, such as security policies. Grids need to work in a commercial environment. For them to be successful in business, providers need to be able to log, account and bill for services.

Despite these challenges, the community is working towards putting grid into business. To date, the EU project BEinGRID has used grid computing to run 25 Business Experiments in areas from everything the media to the environment. So far, 11 BEinGRID partners have taken the technology developed in the project to use in their work.

"Thanks to the 'Virtual Reality for Architects' grid application from the BEinGRID project, we now benefit from unused resources in a simple way," says Nicolas Hubaux, an architect at Art & Build architectural practice. "This implies reduced processing time. Saving time during the processing phase actually enable us to increase and concentrate more on the test phase, reducing post-production related issues. We raise the customer's satisfaction and avoid delays, which is, at the end, really cost-effective."

Knowledge transfer networks such as Grid Computing Now! (renamed Scalable Computing) can also prove invaluable in helping to share the knowledge gained by grid computing. "Grid and cloud computing open up business possibilities that simply aren't available on a standard in-house server setup," says the director, Ian Osborne. "Knowledge Transfer Networks are vital in showing these companies what's possible, and also bringing like-minded organizations together."

The cloud solution

While there are relatively few examples of grids in industry, cloud computing is becoming more widespread. (A cloud is a collection of computers usually owned by a single party, connected so that users can lease access to a portion of its computing power.)

While the grid was built on principles of sharing between academic communities, clouds are based on models that commerce understands - selling a service.

The RESERVOIR project is applying these lessons from the world of clouds back to the grid, exploring how grid institutes could benefit from adopting a 'private cloud' model to provide resources. Private clouds allow organizations to easily manage their own computing resources in house. Using virtualization technology to run multiple virtual computers on the same machine, they can alter the computing available to suit the work at hand. This makes it easier to provide the necessary infrastructure for users, even if these needs change rapidly over time.

-Manisha Lalloo, GridTalk. For more - including case studies - see the the latest GridBriefing.

Want to comment on clouds and grids? See the discussion at our Nature Networks forum.

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