So what is grid? I created a three-part checklist with my colleagues back in 2002. According to this checklist, a grid:
- Coordinates resources that are not subject to centralized control. A grid integrates and coordinates resources and users that live within different control domains -- for example, different administrative units of the same company, or even different companies. A grid addresses the issues of security, policy, payment membership, and so forth that arise in these settings.
- Uses standard, open, general-purpose protocols and interfaces. A grid is built from multi-purpose protocols and interfaces that address such fundamental issues as authentication, authorization, resource discovery, and resource access. It is important that these protocols and interfaces be standard and open. Otherwise, we are dealing with application, hardware, or OS -specific systems.
- Delivers nontrivial qualities of service. A grid should be transparent to the end user, addressing issues of response time, throughput, availability, security, and/or co-allocation of multiple resource types to meet complex user demands. The goal is that the utility of the combined system is significantly greater than that of the sum of its parts.
In even simpler terms, grid is at the foundation level of the trends that are driving better synchronization between IT and the underlying hardware and software resources. In this new wave of innovation, we are starting to see IT more effectively manage its own resources -- and in the process, lead business to this world of "adaptive enterprise."
So why should the enterprise professional care about grid?
The primary reason is that grid will ultimately usher the enterprise into a new era of efficiency in managing its resources. Historically, IT organizations have had to overbuy resources -- planning for peak requirements and worst case scenarios. In the past there was no ability to turn the dial up and down on resources as users required them. Nor had there been a means for transitioning of resources as they dynamically changed state.
Grid is at the foundation of important trends like utility computing, IT automation and virtualization-- and there are a number of things that your organization should be doing to prepare for the arrival of grid in the enterprise. These steps range from how you plan your SOA and utility computing strategy, to evaluating commodity hardware purchasing options, to affecting cultural change in your organization (i.e. a departure from silo'd resources) -- there are a whole host of new challenges and skill sets related to this innovation wave.
Ian Foster is an internationally recognized researcher and leader in the area of Grid computing. He is also the Associate Director of the Mathematics and Computer Science Division of Argonne National Laboratory and the Arthur Holly Compton Professor of Computer Science at the University of Chicago.