Sunday, January 15, 2006

Grids: All HPC? All *nix? Not anymore.

Kim's eBig talk on Thursday night went very well. It was her first public speaking engagement as a Digipede evangelist, and I thought she did great.

Her audience was diverse and obviously very well versed in the concepts (and practices) of distributed computing.

One of the great things that Kim was able to do was to let the audience understand that distributed computing does not apply only to HPC or technical computing anymore. Even the attendees who had experience using grid systems or HPC systems before understood that, while distributed computing was once the hallmark of HPC, its applications today go far beyond technical computing.

One question that came up was why so much distributed computing occurs in the *nix OSs, and not on the Windows platform. A little discussion ensued, and the ideas that came forth were pretty accurate.

First, it was pointed out that much of the research into distributed computing has come from academia. Academics, of course, have always preferred UNIX and the Linux alternatives to Windows (I know that when I graduated from Berkeley in Computer Sciece in 1991, I had never used Windows at school).

Second, the commercial push to grid (as always, I'll alternate between the terms "grid" and "distributed" without going into the distinctions between the two) has come from firms with strong *nix leanings: IBM and Sun. Both have UNIX histories; more recently, of course, IBM has been pushing Linux.

The third reason that the group came up with was the price of the OS. If you are buying 256 boxes for a dedicated cluster, the OS cost becomes a large part of the cost.

There's no doubting the first two reasons. They're indicative of the history of grid computing, but things are changing. The third, though, is a bit of a red herring. Tomorrow I'll get into the reasons why.