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When the Grid met the Cloud - A modern technology fable

What’s in a name? Grid computing and Cloud computing advocates will soon be asking this question. Growing out of academic and open source software efforts, the Grid was represented as a virtually distributed architecture where vast computing nodes worked on jobs as needed. Grid was an outgrowth of Utility computing. Both terms were efforts to find analogies in the electrical power industry for hardware-software combos in the world of distributed computation. Grid never quite caught on.

In fact, a lot of feeder technologies have developed in recent years to give something ‘Grid-like’ a new chance in the market. Blade computers, virtualization, improved data centers, and cheaper memory have set the stage for distributed memory and transaction architectures that could represent a new stage in computing. So long, Grid. Enter the Cloud.

There are no better models of effective distributed computing today than the Web powerhouses of Google, Amazon and Yahoo. Their Web sites, replete with seemingly infinite server farms, support a type of computer architecture known as the Cloud.

Developers and system architects are watching Google and the others quite closely, reverse engineering their best ideas. Some of these firms have begun to open up the Application Programming Interfaces to their Clouds for on-demand computing needs of outsiders.

Is the Cloud different than the Grid? At this year’s OpenGrid Forum I asked that question of Irving Wladawsky-Berger, a key planner of IBM’s 1990s largely successful Internet and Linux efforts, and now Chairman Emeritus of IBM Academy. IBM, which did as much as anyone to promote the Grid, has also begun to promote the Cloud.

Wladawsky-Berger told me the Cloud is a subset of the Grid. “What is new is massive scalability,” he said. “Things change qualitatively when you have massive scale changes,” he continued.

Be it Grid or Cloud, the new computing architecture will require some application and systems programmers to re-think their strategies. For some Web services folks, the change may only be a small one in the way they work with APIs. Deploying these applications will require greater interaction between development teams and data center administration teams.

Like previous technologies, Cloud will be overly touted. Its benefits will be sung – its short comings will be glossed over. Watch for startups to spring up, solving provisioning and reliability issues that arise as the Cloud spreads.

There is a school of thought that says that the Cloud and SOA is a marriage based in heaven. We’d like to know what you think. Do you have thoughts to share on this subject?

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