There have been grid lines on maps, structures to underpin surfaces forever. There are grids (sometimes referred to as ley lines) across the planet since time began.
These ancient markings have intrigued people for centuries, often being routes of passage, mystical power threads across the globe drawing in aliens or ancient religions, according to how people perceive them.
The idea of linking computers together to increase power and memory is hardly new. After all, the very internet itself arose from the concept.
However, suddenly the term ‘grid’ is buzzing in the world of technology as people get excited about the potential of grids to solve many human problems. Grids are totally contemporary and now.
Spare Some Capacity?
World Community Grid is an altruistic community of like-minded individuals who each have spare computing capacity. We all do, it seems, none of our devices use up every space and all energy. The spare bits can be given to help others.
This organisation ‘brings together people from across the globe to benefit humanity by creating the world’s largest non-profit computing grid.’ They do this by pooling surplus processing power from volunteers’ devices.
They say, ‘We believe that innovation combined with visionary scientific research and large-scale volunteerism can help make the planet smarter.’ Their current drive is to develop new AIDS treatments.
Individuals can download secure, free software to harness the spare capacity of any device for scientific research.
Combining Computers Makes Sense
For more than a decade, Worldwide LHC Computing Grid (WLCG) has been working as a global collaboration of computer centres. The aim was to create a resource ‘to store, distribute and analyse the 15 petabytes (15 million gigabytes) of data generated every year by the Large Hadron Collider at Cern in Switzerland.’
In local areas, scientists had access to laboratories and universities around the world, but people realised they could be combined at a cost far less than CERN could buy itself. Today this Grid seamlessly links over 200,000 computers in over 140 centres in 35 countries serving 8000 physicists with real-time LHC data for processing, analysing and storing.
Spread around the planet, based on the European Grid Infrastructure and the Open Science Grid in the USA but supplemented by associated regional grids such as in Taiwan and India, the system has advantages over a massive God-sized mega-computer. Multiple copies of data are kept at different sites, ensuring instant access for research and ‘no single point of failure.’
It is the largest network on earth, and it continues to grow exponentially as the computing power of mankind magnifies day by day. It is run on different tiers, and we are told that Tier 0, for instance, runs around a million data jobs a day and ‘peak data-transfer rates of 10 gigabytes per second – the equivalent of two full DVDs of data per second – are not unusual.’
Small Is Beautiful
In view of the sheer scale of almost every statistic coming out of Cern, there is something warming about the news that a by-product of the bigness, is that all this combined strength will soon be available in a device anybody can hold in the palm of their hand.
It will be small but pack the punches of the grids of collaborative computing already described. No matter where the geographical location of any network of individual computers, the palm gizmos will turn existing desktop, laptop, tablets and smartphones into super-computers.
Some pundits are saying it will make the speed and capability revolution of the past decade seem like the Stone Age.
It is being called the Worldwide Grid. Rest in peace, the World Wide Web.
Also linked in:
End of the World Wide Web? 23 April 2012
The Web of One May Not Be Desirable After All, 15 February 2012
The Cult of the Smartphone Finally Replaces Common Sense, 13 February 2013
Small Is Beautiful in the Path to Micro-Networking Nirvana, 27 November 2012
Another Week, Another Systems Malfunction, 3 July 2012
Image: Biswarup Ganguly