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Grid Computing Goes Linux

Sun lets companies harness the power of their idle computers

Most businesses use several operating systems, and Sun Microsystems wants its grid technology to support as many as possible. Now the vendor has written an edition of its Grid Engine 5.3 software for the version of the Linux operating system that's available through SuSE Linux AG.

The term "grid computing" may conjure up images of more than 1 million idle PCs harnessed together, as United Devices Inc. accomplished in February to search for anthrax cures among 3.5 billion drugs. But when it comes to enterprise computing, the projects are usually smaller because of security and bandwidth concerns. Sun positions its grid software as a way for companies to get more productivity out of their computers, particularly when no one's at the office.

"If you ask most of these customers, 'Do you have enough computing power?' the answer increasingly is no," says Peter Jeffcock, Sun's group marketing manager for grid computing. Using a grid gives them more computing resources.

The Grid Engine software provides a list of available computing resources and a list of tasks. When a machine becomes available, it assigns new tasks according to appropriate rules, says Jeffcock, who estimates the typical engineering workstation is used just 5% to 20% of the time.

Most of the 4,500 grids worldwide that use Sun Grid Engine software are cluster grids, meaning they have a single owner and share computing resources within a department or project, Jeffcock says. Roughly a third of the 150,000 CPUs in those grids run Linux for apps that don't require a lot of computing power; most of the others use Solaris.

SuSE Linux 8.0 Professional Edition addresses security concerns by attaching a digital certificate to each task that's submitted to the resource pool. The product is priced at $80, which includes three months of support.

Other vendors are investing in grid computing. Hewlett-Packard has incorporated software specs for massive grids into the Utility Data Center, a computing power-on-demand product that supports Linux.

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