Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not a subscriber? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Intelligent Machines

On the Grid

Grid computing is becoming an affordable utility for everyone.

A few years ago, I had a series of meetings with CIOs and CTOs in New York City. I asked them all the same question: “Do you feel the grid you’re building is delivering a competitive advantage to your business?” (When we talk about a computer grid, we ordinarily mean a private collection of low-cost network, storage, computing, and software elements, lashed together to do complicated computing work that historically required multimillion-dollar data centers.)

I asked the same question of researchers and executives in the energy industry, which is using grids to find oil; the life sciences, where grids help in drug discovery; the motion picture industry, where grids are used to render complex effects and animation; and academia, where grids are supporting all sorts of innovative science.

The answer was always the same: “Absolutely, yes. Our grid is way better than any of our competitors’.” The only problem: computing is evolving in a completely different direction.

This story is part of our May/June 2006 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

As strange as it may sound, consumers are way ahead of most enterprises and academic institutions when it comes to using public grids (and paying for them). Most of us now live on the public grid at home. We don’t need a supercomputer in the garage; we use the Internet to access Google and Yahoo, we love eBay, we bank from home, we upload and share photos on Flickr and movies on YouTube, and we gather our news from various sources across the Web.

Yet most major research institutions and corporations are still reluctant to leverage “utility computing” – computing power provided on demand over the open Internet. To me, that’s like living without electricity.

But there are signs that change is afoot. A good friend of mine, a bio-informatician, described how frustrated he was at having to wait while his university’s private supercomputing facility worked through its queue of pending jobs to get to his. “If you had a grid available online, I’d bring my whole budget to you,” he said. Granted, his budget was only about $10,000 per quarter, but I assure you there’s a good business in serving the “long tail” – the multi-tude of users with narrow interests and needs that, in aggregate, are the majority.

I believe that in the not-so-distant future, most computing power available over the Internet will be purchased by that tail. There are, after all, far more small businesses than large ones. I’m very comfortable betting on the value in volume – and the willingness of those smaller firms to change culture, process, and lifestyle to get a competitive advantage through network services.

The simplicity, accessibility, and affordability of a true Internet utility computing service will change the face of computing for all organizations, large and small, public and private. And they won’t have to house the grid, manage it, power it, provision it…or buy it.

Jonathan Schwartz was named chief executive officer of Sun Microsystems in April.

Be there when AI pioneers take center stage at EmTech Digital 2019.

Register now
More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Print + All Access Digital.
  • Print + All Access Digital {! insider.prices.print_digital !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    The best of MIT Technology Review in print and online, plus unlimited access to our online archive, an ad-free web experience, discounts to MIT Technology Review events, and The Download delivered to your email in-box each weekday.

    See details+

    12-month subscription

    Unlimited access to all our daily online news and feature stories

    6 bi-monthly issues of print + digital magazine

    10% discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Access to entire PDF magazine archive dating back to 1899

    Ad-free website experience

    The Download: newsletter delivered daily

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.