What is Grid Computing 

What is distributed computing?

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Distributed/Grid computing projects include:

SETI at Home
The World Community Grid




Distributed Computing / Grid Computing

This is a method of computing – the terms Distributed and Grid are used in very similar ways – which involves the use of many computers to tackle a computing task together. These computers may be in different rooms, different buildings, different countries or different continents. They’re tied together by the software – an agent – that’s run on them to perform their part of that task.

Only certain types of task lend themselves to the distributed/grid computing method, as they need to be divisible into sub-tasks that can be carried out in parallel, before having their results recombined. A control program accepts the results of the sub-tasks as they come in from all the computers in the grid and integrates them to advance the task towards its overall goal.

SETI at Home

The best known public distributed/grid computing project is probably SETI at Home. The Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence involves a massive computing effort in scanning the results from several different radio telescopes, which are sweeping the heavens looking for radio signals which can’t easily be classified as coming from natural sources. If they’re not natural, the argument goes, they must be coming from a source of intelligent life somewhere else in the universe. Using a distributed/grid computing program the immense computing power needed to analyse all this radio telescope data doesn’t have to be concentrated in one supercomputer. Instead, it relies on the voluntary donation of computing time by thousands, if not millions, of interested members of the public. By running a special screen saver, packets of data are analysed when a volunteer’s PC is lying idle – rather than popping a copy of the Windows logo round the screen, these PCs spend their off-duty moments analysing yet another signal packet.

Using this model, SETI at Home and, more recently, projects like the World Community Grid, have harnessed huge arrays of PCs in grids to tackle problems like the way proteomes – proteins coded by human gene sequences – fold. The intention is to make this information freely available to help in the development of new treatments for disease.


More and more companies are developing software to handle distributed/grid computing, for both enterprise and public computing projects. One of the leading suppliers for public projects is United Devices. This software controls both the SETI and Proteome Folding projects and has been adopted by IBM as part of its grid computing offering.




Companies producing distributed/grid computing systems include:

The Globus Alliance
United Devices
Distributed/Grid Computing projects



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Last updated: Jan, 2007