Consider pitfalls before ‘going grid’

Last month, representatives from the world-famous CERN laboratory in Geneva announced its massive grid computing project now stretches across 100 servers and 31 countries, including Canada. At the heart of the project is something called a collider, inside which photon beams scurry around at nearly the speed of light, bouncing into each other and hopefully giving scientists valuable information about the nature of the universe.

It’s an example of grid computing on its grandest stage.

The project is intriguing on many fronts and for many people, particularly for those hopeful about grid computing’s future and for anyone who has ever wondered about how our world and everything else beyond it came to be. Despite that giddiness, when it comes to grid computing as an enterprise concept, IT managers must keep their feet planted on the ground.

The concept of grid, although having rung in the ears of IT industry folks for a few years now, is still a somewhat fuzzy idea in the minds of most enterprise managers. Harried by slow servers, storage systems filled to the brim, and IT budgets drawn down to the last pennies, IS heads are looking at all options to solve their headaches — and grid is emerging as a remedy.

They’re discovering, through their own research and the ever-increasing hype thrown at them by vendors, some mouth-watering facts. If deployed and managed correctly, the grid can allow a computing task to be shuffled from one overused system to another idle node on the network, thus keeping a better balance across the computing spectrum.

They’re also discovering that service providers are lining up to offer such grid architectures, thus absolving enterprise IT departments of getting grids off the ground.

At the end of all these positives are objectives that every IT manager is eager to reach: cost savings and greater efficiencies. Still, many challenges await the IS shop that decides to traverse grid computing. Some are technical, such as having to rewrite applications to operate in a new environment.

Others are non-technical, such as the time staff must take to fully understand the concept. Can I afford to reallocate my already thinned resources? It’s a question IT leaders have to ask.

Some early grid adopters have also encountered internal resistance from employees who are cold to the concept of sharing their network real estate with other departments. Making sure a large majority of managers and employees are ready to buy into the grid is easily overlooked, but a necessary preliminary step.

For shops tired of buying more server and storage capacity to solve their computing problems, the concept is worth a long look. For others, it might be best to sit tight for the short term and witness the success of early enterprise adopters before grappling with the grid.

For more information on Grid Computing including a primer plus more articles, case studies, white papers, industry links and more, be sure to visit our currently featured Grid Computing Spotlight.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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