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Is grid computing for SMBs?

As the hype about on-demand utility computing escalates, more small and medium-sized businesses are trying to determine if they can benefit from grid computing and if the investment is worthwhile.

Grid computing is a new technology architecture where parallel systems connect clusters of computers, storage and networks together so that enterprises can dynamically allocate their technology resources based on their changing business needs. Grid computing permits dynamic sharing of distributed computing resources based on the availability, performance, cost and quality-of-service requirements of end users.

The theoretical business value of grid computing is to be able to consolidate the number of devices being used and get greater utilization out of them. Getting more out of fewer resources is everyone's objective, but it's important to remember that grid computing is only a piece of the utility computing puzzle. Small and large companies must also implement provisioning, security, performance monitoring and management systems to fully deploy an on-demand, utility computing architecture.

It's important to keep in mind that grid computing is only a piece of the utility-computing puzzle.

Jeff Kaplan, Managing director, THINK strategies

There are some compelling reasons to pursue grid computing as the first step toward migrating to an on-demand utility computing environment. For one, as demand for traditional products lags, nearly every IT vendor is promoting new grid computing products. This has created a double-edge sword for SMBs. On one hand, competition is creating a buyer's market, which allows SMBs to negotiate attractive deals. However, it is increasingly difficult and time-consuming to select and successfully implement the right vendor's product.


Not so easy


There are also some challenges in adopting grid computing:


  • SMBs don't have the internal skills and resources to thoroughly evaluate the business value of grid technology in relation to their specific corporate requirements.
  • Budgetary constraints preclude most SMBs from initiating a broad-based migration to grid computing.
  • SMBs cannot allocate their staff to implement and manage new technology into their existing IT and business operations.


  • SMBs cannot afford to adopt new technology that potentially could disrupt their business.


For large enterprises, there is a growing number of success stories. With the in-house staff and financial resources available, they can easily adopt grid computing. However, the long-term business benefits and return on investment are yet to be fully determined.

There are a few ways SMBs can determine if grid computing can satisfy their needs and minimize risks:


  • Contract with a hosted application, storage or other IT service that relies on grid computing. These managed services are generally priced on an annual subscription basis and can be acquired incrementally to see if they satisfy business needs. There is a growing array of independent service providers and established players adding these services specifically for SMBs.
  • Become more familiar with industry trends on grid computing by contacting the Enterprise Grid Alliance (EGA). Formed in April 2004, the EGA is an independent consortium of technology vendors that builds industry reference models, provisioning methods, security products and accounting standards for deploying commercial applications in a grid environment. The alliance promises to develop best practice guides that can help enterprises overcome obstacles using enterprise grids. The EGA is also working with other standards organizations to promote integrated enterprise grid solutions and improve adoption rates.
  • Be cautious. If you want to take the right path toward migrating to a full on-demand utility computing environment, then approach grid computing carefully. It's still relatively new and has plenty of uncertainty. Although product prices are already decreasing, total cost of ownership can be significant when you consider the staff requirements to deploy and administer grid computing.
  • I recommend that you learn how grid computing can impact your business by subscribing to grid computing-based packaged applications, or managed services, before implementing a grid computing architecture. This approach can ensure that you take the right path toward migrating to a full on-demand, utility computing environment.

    Jeff Kaplan is managing director of ThinkStrategies, a strategic consulting services firm in Wellesley, Mass.

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