Grid computing will be the hot IT item this year as companies jockey for position in the field and pump up their marketing budgets, according to those close to the industry.

“It offers tremendous promise,” said Mike Bernhardt, founder and CEO of Grid Strategies Inc. in Portland, Ore. “The concept of grid computing has this implied business value that organizations can take advantage of IT infrastructure computing resources that they’ve already acquired and maximize the use of those.”

Grid computing means a network, a storage device, memory or CPU cycles can all be shared, Bernhardt continued, and in large organizations with lots of unused resources there’s “tremendous potential” that can be harnessed and, in theory, save companies large sums of money.

“There’s a business proposition that’s inherent with grid computing that’s very attractive to IT organizations today,” said Bernhardt.

Grid computing, which began life in the U.S. in universities and certain government offices, still isn’t particularly well known and its commercial appeal has only emerged over the last three years or so.

What grid computing does is pull together the unused processing cycles of many computers to solve problems or to process information that is too large for a single computer to handle. Grid computing is not, as observers have made clear, a lineup of products.

Among the industries adopting the grid computing model are oil and gas, health care, medical research, pharmaceuticals, aerospace, automotive and financial institutions, according to Bernhardt. Grid Strategies’ surveys in the U.S. found that 92 per cent of companies that supply grid computing products planned to boost their marketing efforts. Bernhardt also said of the marketing services firms his company interviewed, 94 per cent have confirmed their forecasts of double digit revenue growth attributed to clients that enhance their grid computing marketing in 2005.

Bernhardt’s isn’t a single, partisan voice in the IT industry promoting grid computing. Others – at Oracle, IBM, Sun, Intel and elsewhere – are saying the same thing.

Véronique Anxolabehere, senior director of technical product marketing for Oracle Corp. in Redwood Shores, Calif., is one of them.

“I’m not surprised that many companies are thinking about spending more marketing dollars with the grid. It’s the best way to remedy the problems of the traditional data centre,” said Anxolabehere. These traditional centres’ resources are grouped in silos by department – HR, accounting, and so on – and that leads to significant under utilization, she said. “Pretty much you have capital that is sitting in your data centre that is not utilized.”

At this point, said Anxolabehere, companies are deploying grid computing for certain series of applications that they intend to a have a ripple effect. For Oracle customers that have bought and are using its grid products it’s important to demonstrate their ROI, she continued. Several third party studies show that the average ROI for these customers is 150 per cent, said Anxolabehere.

Although an ROI of 150 per cent is an attractive proposition and certainly one that Oracle marketers have embraced, the rest of their grid computing push seems low key. Anxolabehere said essentially the company’s products are being sold through Oracle’s regular sales force.

At IBM Canada in Markham, Ont., e-server manager for grid and deep computing Domenic Lam said his employer has a separate business unit for its grid computing products that is divided into regional and worldwide divisions.

“At the regional level, like IBM Canada, (grid computing) is split into two areas. One is my area, which is business development (and) sales because the grid computing solution is one of IBM’s growth initiatives. The other (area) is the service engagement organization with a service principal of grid computing who has at his disposal skilled people who have been building grid environments for clients over the last few years.”

If this is the year that grid computing takes off then the segment promises to be highly lucrative in a couple of years. IDC predicts in the U.S. the market will be worth US$12 billion by 2007.   

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