Gateway to offer grid computing service with store PCs

Gateway Inc. has found a use for the showroom PCs occupying space in its stores around the U.S. beyond checking out the latest version of the Unreal Tournament game. The company will offer a grid-computing service to businesses interested in processing computing jobs that would ordinarily require the power of an expensive supercomputer, Gateway said in a statement today.

Poway, Calif.-based Gateway has set up a grid using software from United Devices Inc. and the approximately 8,000 PCs on display at its retail stores nationwide. Customers can submit jobs through a Web-based application to a central server, which will then scan Gateway's network of PCs to look for opportunities to use untapped processing power, said Premal Kazi, senior manager for Gateway's Processing On Demand service.

Grid computing is an idea gaining acceptance as the cost of PCs comes down and companies look to reconcile shrinking IT budgets with increased demands for productivity. Thousands of PCs linked together can provide enough processing power to rival some of the world largest supercomputers.

This type of service will appeal to companies with applications that require significant processing power but don't require the huge memory capacity of a supercomputer, said Ahmar Abbas, managing director at market research firm Grid Technology Partners in San Jose. Examples include life-sciences companies such as genomics and proteomics researchers, as well as financial services companies, he said

Other potential users of the grid include application service providers that want to outsource their infrastructures or purchase small blocks of computing power to handle overflow demand, Abbas said.

Gateway's in-store PCs are used to show off the latest technologies and are updated a few times a year, so the processing power of the grid will grow as faster processors from Intel Corp. are developed, Kazi said. All of Gateway's PCs use Intel processors.

"We don't have to absorb the capital expenditure hit to set this up; we already have the equipment," Kazi said.

The grid can be maintained from a central location using United Devices' Alliance MetaProcessor software, so in-store personnel will never have to deal with the grid, Kazi said.

Security was an important part of the initiative, said Paul Kirchoff, vice president of marketing at Austin, Texas-based United Devices. The central server will have biometric systems controlling access to the room where the server is located, and several encryption technologies were built into the network and the individual PCs to protect data as it flows across the grid, he said.

The inherent nature of grid computing also provides defense against compromised data. Since the grid distributes pieces of the job across hundreds of individual PCs, anyone who wants to piece together the contents of a particular application would need to infiltrate a great many PCs in order to steal the data, Abbas said.

Pricing for the system will start at 15 cents per processor hour, and the totals will be aggregated monthly, Kazi said. Gateway will offer that pricing model until April 1, when it will re-evaluate its prices based on the needs of its customers, he said.

Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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