Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Cloud Computing

Nature online reports, in a story linked through this post's title, that Amazon, IBM and Google are offering scientists at major research institutions low-cost access to linked networks of computers. The idea is to offer a middle level of computing power between desktop models and the rare supercomputers. The "cloud computers" can also handle data mining better than the supercomputers, which are better adapted to complex modeling, like modeling climate change or jet engine air flow problems.

There have been informal networks creating supercomputer-powered power like this by linking relatively modest-sized computers. SETI (the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) project recruits spare processing power from home PCs. See this story from PC World magazine online about the SERENDIP group at University of California, Berkeley which coordinates the linking (article dated August 14, 1997. And NASA reported on the Distributed Supercomputer project, that developed javascript called JGravity to link smaller computers into a network that could solve problems previously reserved for supercomputers. (last updated December, 2000). Cloud computing seems to be another step in this direction, but commentators at the Nature posting thought perhaps the large companies offering very low cost access to their unused capacity might be testing the waters for a more profitable project in the future.

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