Jargonbuster

The grid

What is it?

It’s early days, so a number of varying definitions currently exist. At its
simplest though, the grid is a network of computing resources that can be used
as one big ‘virtual’ computing system, offering individuals and organisations
around the world all the computing power they could ever need. The grid could
constitute a network of computers inside your own company, but it could equally
be a roomful of linked PCs on the other side of the world. In theory, a
lonesome teleworker in deepest Dorset working on the most basic of laptops
could access an application running on a grid in the Far East, and then store
their worked-on files in the US. With the advent of the grid, it’s predicted
that we will buy computing power more like we buy energy from a utility firm on
a pay-as-you-go basis.

Is it different from the web?

Yes, although many people predict that the grid forms the infrastructure for
the next generation of the web. The main difference is that the web is about
information, while the grid is more about computing power. While the web gives
us access to masses of information, a user is still limited in what they can do
with it by their computer’s processing power and memory.

The grid has the potential to make a computer’s specification irrelevant,
and will allow incredibly complex computational tasks to be performed very
quickly. As an aside, an early use of the grid was the Search for
Extraterrestrial Intelligence project, which sees individuals kindly donate
their dead processing time to help analyse data from a radio telescope (you can
play a part at http://setiathome.ssl.berkeley.edu/)

What is its relevance to HR?

The grid will have a dramatic effect on how we all work and do business. It
will enable companies to strategically use data in all sorts of ways and offers
tremendous scope for sharing resources and working across remote locations. It
will alter the way we buy IT systems and services, reducing the amount spent on
hardware and software, as well as enabling companies to make use of unused
computing time.

The grid has demonstrated its worth in the world of outsourcing. Hewitt
Associates – one of the biggest HR consulting and outsourcing firms in the US
and the handler of more than 53 million transactions a year from 13 million participants
– is being hailed as an early grid visionary. It has reportedly reduced its
transaction costs by 90 per cent in a grid-based project with IBM. It may be
some time before the effects of the grid filter through an organisation’s
infrastructure, but it’s not too early to consider its potential.

Where can I find out more?

The web is awash with grid reports, but among the best sites for info are www.grid.org and UK site www.gridoutreach.org.uk

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