How Shared Computing Works

Shared Computing Systems

In a traditional high-performance computing system, all the computers are the same model and run on the same operating system. Much of the time, every application run on the system has its own dedicated server. Sometimes the entire network relies on hardwired connections, meaning all the elements in the system connect to each other through various hubs. The entire system is efficient and elegant.

A shared computing system can be just as efficient, but it doesn't necessarily look very elegant. A shared computing system is limited only by the software it relies upon to connect computers together. With the right software, a shared computing system can work on different kinds of computers running on different operating systems. Network connections might exist over hardwired networks, local area networks (LANs), wireless area networks (WANs) or the Internet. The biggest advantage a shared computing system has over traditional HPC systems is that it's easier to add more resources to a shared computing system. Anyone with a computer capable of running the system's software can join.

The system's software is what gives it access to each computer's unused processing power. Every computer connected to the system must have this software installed in order to participate. There's no definitive shared computing software kit, but in general the software must do the following:

  • Contact the system's administrative server to get a chunk of data
  • Monitor the host computer's CPU usage and utilize the processing power whenever it's available
  • Send analyzed data back to the administrative server in exchange for new data

Shared computing systems have a relatively narrow use. They're great for solving big computational problems that scientists can break down into smaller sections. If breaking the problem into smaller chunks is particularly simple, it's called an embarrassingly parallel problem.

For small computational problems or problems that aren't easy to break up, shared computing systems are less useful. The whole point of the system is to decrease the amount of time it takes to finish complex calculations. It won't necessarily increase the speed of simple calculations across the network.

What are the different parts of a shared computing system? Keep reading to find out.