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Most companies today are using precious little of the computing power available to them through the machines and software they already own. PCs, servers and mainframes all sit idle much of time, while the people who operate them are away from the office or the plant. And as a recent IBM Corp. study points out, this is a significant problem for at least three reasons. First, companies are continually being asked to do more with less, but they cannot seem to break the cycle of increasing infrastructure needs and costs. Second, there is much value locked up in infrastructure that companies would like to release in the hope that it might change the way they do business. And third, there is continual pressure on IT functions to deal with a backlog of projects and to help deploy new business capabilities (Desau, 2003).
Fortunately, there is a solution to this underutilization of computing infrastructure. At present, it is fairly easy to achieve 60% to 70% utilization on a mainframe, but most companies are using only 15% to 20% of all their computing resources across their entire infrastructure. But with the emerging practice of grid computing, companies could attain 90% in the near future.
Grid computing is a collection of distributed computing resources (memory, processing and communications technology) available over a network that appears, to an end user, as one large virtual computing system. It dynamically links far-flung computers and computing resources over the public Internet or a virtual private network on an as-needed basis. In essence, it provides computing power on demand, much like a utility.
At the technology level, grid computing is closely related to peer-to-peer (P2P) technology. A few years ago, P2P was seen as a way for users to share files directly (using Napster, for example); today it enables different types of computers and devices to communicate directly with each other, without a server in the middle. P2P will become a fundamental part of how distributed computing (another name for grid computing) evolves across the Internet and how enterprises build distributed systems internally (Fontana, 2002). In April 2002, the Global Grid Forum, a group founded by academics and researchers to establish standards for grid computing, merged with the P2P Working Group, a larger collaboration of universities and corporations.
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