Tony Bishop, the chief business architect of DataSynapse, says Hewitt is a visionary in using grid. Most commercial companies using grid--and there aren't that many to start with--aren't using it in a dynamic flow of a business process as Hewitt is. And since this uses a standardized means of Java middleware and Simple Object Access Protocol messaging to route part of the mainframe's work to a cheaper alternative, it opens up the possibility of doing more on the grid. "They now have a way to migrate the right type of request to the right type of computing source," Bishop says. "Since they've built it through a Web service, open program, they've allowed this mainframe to talk to the distributed world." He predicts commercial grid computing will evolve in this direction over the next two years.
Hewitt's grid function is working, serving select clients who are aware of the new technology being used, and the IT staff is slowly increasing the load on it. It has worked without surprises so far.
Hewitt execs know the greatest payoff won't come from cutting the cost of one pension calculation. This is not only the first grid effort the company undertook but also the first Linux project. None of the Hewitt staff sees grid computing replacing the mainframe environment for massive transactions. It might have uses in some of the calculation-intensive work done by Hewitt actuaries. But like any true business-technology innovator, Hewitt's staff knows that the best idea is the one they can't even imagine yet. Says Hilgenberg: "If we build a competency around grid, we will start to see opportunities we don't now."