How Grid Computing Works

Grid Computing Overview

Grid computing systems work on the principle of pooled resources. Let's say you and a couple of friends decide to go on a camping trip. You own a large tent, so you've volunteered to share it with the others. One of your friends offers to bring food and another says he'll drive the whole group up in his SUV. Once on the trip, the three of you share your knowledge and skills to make the trip fun and comfortable. If you had made the trip on your own, you would need more time to assemble the resources you'd need and you probably would have had to work a lot harder on the trip itself.

A grid computing system uses that same concept: share the load across multiple computers to complete tasks more efficiently and quickly. Before going too much further, let's take a quick look at a computer's resources:

  • Central processing unit (CPU): A CPU is a microprocessor that performs mathematical operations and directs data to different memory locations. Computers can have more than one CPU.
  • Memory: In general, a computer's memory is a kind of temporary electronic storage. Memory keeps relevant data close at hand for the microprocessor. Without memory, the microprocessor would have to search and retrieve data from a more permanent storage device such as a hard disk drive.
  • Storage: In grid computing terms, storage refers to permanent data storage devices like hard disk drives or databases.

Normally, a computer can only operate within the limitations of its own resources. There's an upper limit to how fast it can complete an operation or how much information it can store. Most computers are upgradeable, which means it's possible to add more power or capacity to a single computer, but that's still just an incremental increase in performance.

Grid computing systems link computer resources together in a way that lets someone use one computer to access and leverage the collected power of all the computers in the system. To the individual user, it's as if the user's computer has transformed into a supercomputer.

If you read a report about grid computing, you come across a lot of unusual terms and jargon. What does it all mean? Keep reading to find out.