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Maximizing Your Enterprise Architecture
Adhanda Enterprises

The November 27 issue of Forbes reports on a nifty idea slowly working its way through the corporate EA world: Learn to use idle supercomputing power to avoid buying more hardware.

Nancy Davis, a technology manager at jet-engine maker Pratt & Whitney, “didn’t want to spring for another $10 million supercomputer.” The engineers she supported needed more computing power, and the obvious answer was to buy more hardware. But one night a few years ago, after the staff had left, she surveyed the company’s design center in East Hartford, Conn., and counted hundreds of powerful Unix workstations sitting idle but ready. What a waste.

She had her staff rewrite software to chop up structural analysis into small chunks and distribute them to 5,000 workstations to process overnight. She ended up with a virtual supercomputer capable of crunching 6 trillion floating-point operations per second, or 6 teraflops, equivalent to one of the ten most powerful computers in the world. “It’s essentially free since we already use them during the day,” Davis tells Forbes. It works so well that she plans to add 13,000 PCs to the effort.

The practice of cobbling together multiple processors to create a virtual supercomputer is popular in academia and government research, but this ersatz “distributed processing” is becoming an answer to such business problems as complex graphics, risk analysis, and design.

Forbes reports that J.P. Morgan, Intel, Microsoft, Boeing, and others are tying together far-flung PCs to perform “intense computation that was previously impossible or too costly.” This has spawned a new industry, one in which dozens of new firms are racing to enlist thousands of individual PC owners to join their “grids,” aiming to rent out this parallel power to computation-hungry clients for a fee.

You might remember the concept from the SetiAtHome scheme. Started in late 1998, Forbes reported two years ago, “the space-alien hunt has recruited the owners of 2.5 million PCs, tapping their machines’ idle processing time to search small chunks of radio telescope data for patterns that might signal intelligent life elsewhere in the cosmos.” It commands 25 teraflops of computing power -- alas, with no luck yet.

As Forbes says: “Serious money is pouring into the concept. The venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins has invested $6 million in Centrata, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based upstart. Entropia of San Diego raised $7.5 million from Mission Ventures and others in May. United Devices, based in Austin, Tex., raised $13 million from Softbank and Oak Investment Partners in August.”

Intel is a believer, using the concept to up workstation use from 30 percent to 80 percent, as Robert Knighten, peer-to-peer evangelist with Intel’s Enterprise Architecture Lab, tells Forbes, “This was one of our little secrets that we didn’t want to disclose.”

Sorry, but the secret’s out.

Further german information can be found here.