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The Grid: The Next-Gen Internet?

Douglas Heingartner Email 03.08.01 | 2:00 AM

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands — The Matrix may be the future of virtual reality, but researchers say the Grid is the future of collaborative problem-solving.

More than 400 scientists gathered at the Global Grid Forum this week to discuss what may be the Internet’s next evolutionary step.

Though distributed computing evokes associations with populist initiatives like SETI@home, where individuals donate their spare computing power to worthy projects, the Grid will link PCs to each other and the scientific community like never before.

 

The Grid will not only enable sharing of documents and MP3 files, but also connect PCs with sensors, telescopes and tidal-wave simulators.

IBM’s Brian Carpenter suggested “computing will become a utility just like any other utility.”

Carpenter said, “The Grid will open up … storage and transaction power in the same way that the Web opened up content.” And just as the Internet connects various public and private networks, Cisco Systems’ Bob Aiken said, “you’re going to have multiple grids, multiple sets of middleware that people are going to choose from to satisfy their applications.”

As conference moderator Walter Hoogland suggested, “The World Wide Web gave us a taste, but the Grid gives a vision of an ICT (Information and Communication Technology)-enabled world.”

Though the task of standardizing everything from system templates to the definitions of various resources is a mammoth one, the GGF can look to the early days of the Web for guidance. The Grid that organizers are building is a new kind of Internet, only this time with the creators having a better knowledge of where the bottlenecks and teething problems will be.

The general consensus at the event was that although technical issues abound, the thorniest issues will involve social and political dimensions, for example how to facilitate sharing between strangers where there is no history of trust.

Amsterdam seemed a logical choice for the first Global Grid Forum because not only is it the world’s most densely cabled city, it was also home to the Internet Engineering Task Force’s first international gathering in 1993. The IETF has served as a model for many of the GGF’s activities: protocols, policy issues, and exchanging experiences.

The Grid Forum, a U.S.-based organization combined with eGrid – the European Grid Forum, and Asian counterparts to create the Global Grid Forum (GGF) in November, 2000.

The Global Grid Forum organizers said grid communities in the United States and Europe will now run in synch.

The Grid evolved from the early desire to connect supercomputers into “metacomputers” that could be remotely controlled. The word “grid” was borrowed from the electricity grid, to imply that any compatible device could be plugged in anywhere on the Grid and be guaranteed a certain level of resources, regardless of where those resources might come from.

Scientific communities at the conference discussed what the compatibility standards should be, and how extensive the protocols need to be.

As the number of connected devices runs from the thousands into the millions, the policy issues become exponentially more complex. So far, only draft consensus has been reached on most topics, but participants say these are the early days.

As with the Web, the initial impetus for a grid came from the scientific community, specifically high-energy physics, which needed extra resources to manage and analyze the huge amounts of data being collected.

The most nettlesome issues for industry are security and accounting. But unlike the Web, which had security measures tacked on as an afterthought, the Grid is being designed from the ground up as a secure system.


Conference participants debated what types of services (known in distributed computing circles as resource units) provided through the Grid will be charged for. And how will the administrative authority be centralized?

Corporations have been slow to cotton to this new technology’s potential, but the suits are in evidence at this year’s Grid event. As GGF chairman Charlie Catlett noted, “This is the first time I’ve seen this many ties at a Grid forum.”

In addition to IBM, firms such as Boeing, Philips and Unilever are already taking baby steps toward the Grid.

Though commercial needs tend to be more transaction-focused than those of scientific pursuits, most of the technical requirements are common. Furthermore, both science and industry participants say they require a level of reliability that’s not offered by current peer-to-peer initiatives: Downloading from Napster, for example, can take seconds or minutes, or might not work at all.

Garnering commercial interest is critical to the Grid’s future. Cisco’s Aiken explained that “if grids are really going to take off and become the major impetus for the next level of evolution in the Internet, we have to have something that allows (them) to easily transfer to industry.”

Other potential Grid components include creating a virtual observatory, and doctors performing simulations of blood flows. While some of these applications have existed for years, the Grid will make them routine rather than exceptional.

The California Institute of Technology’s Paul Messina said that by sharing computing resources, “you get more science from the same investment.”

Ian Foster of the University of Chicago said that Web precursor Arpanet was initially intended to be a distributed computing network that would share CPU-intensive tasks but instead wound up giving birth to e-mail and FTP.

The Grid may give birth to a global file-swapping network or a members-only citadel for moneyed institutions. But just as no one ten years ago would have conceived of Napster — not to mention AmIHotOrNot.com — the future of the Grid is unknown.

An associated DataGrid conference continues until Friday, focusing on a project in which resources from Pan-European research institutions will analyze data generated by a new particle collider being built at Swiss particle-physics lab CERN.

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Voyeurism still rules the Web 2.0 world

By Jacqui Cheng | Published: April 18, 2007 – 10:38AM CT

Popular social web sites such as YouTube and Flickr may not be as popular to contribute to as many of us originally thought, according to Hitwise analyst Bill Tancer, speaking at this week’s Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco. While the Web 2.0 sites have been known to enjoy steady web traffic and heavy viral participation, only small fractions of overall users actually use the services to upload contentAccording to the report, only 0.16 percent of YouTube’s total traffic is made up of users who upload videos. Similarly, only 0.2 percent of Flickr’s regular users are there to upload photos. Wikipedia was the only “Web 2.0” type site in the report that had decent numbers, but even its participation was relatively low at 4.59 percent of visitors adding or editing Wikipedia entries.

Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of traffic to sites that are meant to help users share photos, videos, and knowledge with each other is made up of people who just want to observe. After all, it takes a lot less effort to be a wallflower than star of the show, even if the “show” is made up of millions of exhibits ranging from hilarious to downright shameful.

Tancer said that despite the seemingly low involvement, however, overall visits to the popular content sharing sites are up by 686 percent since 2005, and currently account for 12 percent of overall web traffic in the US. That number is likely to continue to grow over the next several years, as more and more sites pop up to allow web users to put their lives on display—and take advantage of that voyeuristic tendency in many of us, of course. According to Reuters, Tancer told his audience, “Web 2.0 and participatory sites (are) really gaining traction.”

Just within the last week, Will Ferrell made a splash in the world of user-generated video content with his new site, FunnyorDie, meant to spark more viewer participation by way of voting. Sites like his are only going to become more common as companies and marketers figure out how to coax more participation out of the audience. Could we, one day, have an entirely web-based American Idol?

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Bebo, Meebo team up with Facebook against Google

By David Chartier | Published: December 13, 2007 – 01:26PM CT

Google boosted its army in the social networking battle last month by announcing OpenSocial, a platform for providing applications and widgets that any site or social network can adopt. This concept of “write once, run anywhere” is certainly an appealing one for third parties looking to get their products in front of lucrative social networking eyeballs. It was clearly also a response to Facebook’s open API initiative that it launched back in May, which almost instantly opened the floodgates to a new rush of users and developers that has only increased in size. Though Google and Facebook have been scoring their respective social networking partnerships over the last few months, two separate announcements this week from major web players Bebo and Meebo are the latest to help tip the scales in Facebook’s favor.

MySpace and Facebook may dominate social networking traffic in the US, but Bebo holds strong at third place. The company’s visibility is likely to increase as well with its new implementation of the Facebook Platform. This will allow developers to build their apps simultaneously for Bebo and Facebook with a minimal amount of fuss—perhaps none at all. Considering that Facebook reportedly had over 32 million unique visitors in October 2007 and Bebo had almost 4.5 million, this new application compatibility can only be a boost to the traffic of both companies. Interestingly though, Bebo also announced its plans to eventually support Google’s OpenSocial sometime in 2008, making it (potentially) the first social networking site to embrace both platforms. Still, Facebook’s obvious place at the top of Bebo’s list will only be a boon to their offerings—while sticking a thorn in OpenSocial’s side.

The second pro-Facebook announcement comes from Meebo, the reigning king of web-based chat which now claims over 20 million unique monthly users. Offering a range of products, advertising opportunities, and unique features like co-op games with chat buddies, its announcement of meebo rooms, a Partner Edition custom-tailored for the Facebook Platform will be another major symbiotic win. As a social site, Facebook’s integration of a web-based chat leader that allows users to easily share links and play embedded videos will undoubtedly be a boost to traffic and the amount of time users spend at the site. Meebo can even bring its other major partnerships to the chat rooms it enables Facebook with, like the one it made with Rock-A-Fella Records in September to allow users in a room to preview Kanye West’s new album in a social atmosphere.

Likely to Google’s dismay, Meebo did not mirror Bebo’s intentions to also support OpenSocial at a future date.

While third parties and independent developers have been quick to hop on both Facebook’s and Google’s platforms, these announcements from significant players in other social corners of the web are a major win for Facebook. The social network is also at an advantage due to its being a visible destination with an established user base for developers. Google, by contrast, could see more difficulties in snagging partners due to its OpenSocial platform feeling more like an ambiguous middleman with no major faces to match with its name.

Ultimately though, the battle for the social networking space is just getting started. Google has notoriously deep pockets and a broader grasp on the web, while Facebook valuations are still at an amazing $15 billion. Grab some popcorn; this should be a good show.

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