07 March 2006

The Other Grid God: Open Source

As I was browsing through Lxer.com, my eye caught this rather wonderful headline: "Grid god to head up Chicago computing institute". The story explains that Ian Foster, one of the pioneers in the area of grid computing (and the grid god in question), is moving to the Computation Institute (great name - horrible Web site).

Grid computing refers to the seamless linking together across the Internet of physically separate computers to form a huge, virtual computer. It's an idea that I've been following for some time, not least because it's yet another area where free software trounces proprietary solutions.

The most popular toolkit for building grids comes from the Globus Alliance, and this is by far the best place to turn to find out about the subject. For example, there's a particularly good introduction to grid computing's background and the latest developments.

The section dealing with grid architecture notes that there is currently a convergence between grid computing and the whole idea of Web services. This is only logical, since one of the benefits of having a grid is that you can access Web services across it in a completely transparent way to create powerful virtual applications running on massive virtual hardware.

The Globus Alliance site is packed with other resources, including a FAQ, a huge list of research papers on grids and related topics, information about the Globus Toolkit, which lets you create grids, and the software itself.

Open source's leading position in the grid computing world complements a similar success in the related field of supercomputing. As this chart shows, over 50% of the top 500 supercomputers in the world run GNU/Linux; significantly, Microsoft Windows does not even appear on the chart.

This total domination of top-end computing - be it grids or supercomputers - by open source is one of the facts that Microsoft somehow omits to tell us in its "Get The Facts" campaign.

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