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What is utility computing?

Dec 16, 20032 mins

* Utility computing: Hype or help?

This is the second of a series of newsletters based on a Server Computing 2004 presentation I gave at CD Expo’s Enterprise IT Week in Las Vegas last month.

One of the trends in server computing is on-demand or utility computing.

Utility computing is one of the most hyped strategies we’ve seen from IT vendors yet. Companies are embracing it in concept – the idea of provisioning server resources in the same was as water or electricity – has a lot of appeal.

The problem with utility computing right now is that it is only a long-range vision from vendors. The issue is further confused in that vendors call it by a variety of names. To Sun, it’s N1; to IBM it’s Utility Computing or On-Demand; to HP it’s the Adaptive Enterprise. Even Microsoft has its Dynamic Systems Initiative.

Utility computing is an all or nothing deal, says Jamie Gruener, senior analyst for the Yankee Group. It’s not something users can just buy into some of the way.

One of the initial applications of utility computing is grid computing. Grid computing uses a cluster of computers linked over the Internet as a way to provide computing power on-demand.

The idea is to save companies money by allowing them to tap computing power only when it’s needed and to share expensive applications.

A grid can consist of computers within a company or of computers from several companies with the same affinity group. For instance, a group of pharmaceutical companies would form a grid to share an expensive tool and do drug research.

In the past year, grid computing has moved beyond the academic and research industries. IBM, for instance, has grid projects underway at a division of the Nippon Life Insurance Group and at a division of Deutsche Telekom. 

There are a number of companies that make grid software for linking together these disparate systems. Among them are Avaki, which makes grid software that integrates data sources and computing resources; United Devices, which offers distributed computing software and services for grids from existing compute resources; and Platform Computing, a software vendor that helps companies plan, build, run and manage computer grids.

In addition, there are several organizations involved in grid computing. The better known ones are the Global Grid Forum and The Globus Alliance, which distributes the Globus Toolkit, an open source set of tools for building grids.