December 10, 2002
Gateway Gears Up Grid Computing Push
By Jeffrey Burt
Gateway Inc., the PC maker best known for its consumer systems and talking cow, is linking thousands
of display PCs in its nationwide chain of stores to create a grid computing environment capable of scaling
to 14 teraflops of performance.
Through its Processing on Demand initiative, which will be unveiled this week, Gateway is making available
the computing power of almost 8,000 PCs spread across its 272 Gateway stores to research institutions,
universities, government agencies and businesses.
Such users will be offered relatively inexpensive access to the grid, whose PCs, to date, have sat unused
for long periods, said Gateway officials. Because the company routinely upgrades the PCs in the stores,
the computing capabilities on the grid feature the latest technologies, they said.
In a pilot test, Inpharmatica Ltd. reproduced the results of a bioinformatics job run on the Processing on
Demand system and its own computer farm, said CIO Pat Leach. The London-based company turned to
Gateway because it wants to cut the amount of time it spends managing its 2,300-processor computer
farm. "We are a drug discovery company, not an IT shop," Leach said. "We would much rather employ
people to do innovative analysis of the data than spend time building computers."
Gateway's grid computing concept was born out of the Poway, Calif., company's New Ventures
Organization, a division created early this year to explore opportunities to grow revenues and customer
Leach said he was initially surprised to hear from Gateway about a distributed computing push but that in
retrospect it presented a great model. Gateway also appears more nimble than larger companies such as
Sun Microsystems Inc. and IBM, which are also promoting grid solutions, he said. "We moved from initial
conversation [with Gateway] to completed pilot in a few weeks," Leach said.
The Processing on Demand grid is the first initiative out of NVO. The group saw that the PCs in the stores
were already linked internally by 10/100 Ethernet and linked to a central center in Sioux Falls, S.D.,
mostly via T-1 lines, and figured it made sense to leverage the computers.
"Grid computing is not really a core business for Gateway," said NVO Director Bob Moore. "But if you
think about it, when you look at what we have to offer, then you say, yeah, why not?
"Most of those stores for 60 percent of the day are closed, and those assets are not used and are
depreciating," Moore said. "The other 40 percent of the time, they're not used very often."
Grid computing has traditionally been used in the technical and scientific realms, although there has been
a push in recent years by such companies as IBM, Sun and Microsoft Corp. to help enterprises create
their own grids.
Gateway's service is powered by the new Alliance MetaProcessor technology from United Devices Inc., an
Austin, Texas, company that builds software platforms for distributed computing scenarios. Gateway is
hosting Alliance MetaProcessor.
Users pay 15 cents per processor hour to access as much power as they need—up to more than 14
teraflops, or 1 trillion floating-point operations per second.
Gateway will help users port their applications to the grid, and United Devices offers a software
development kit to make writing applications to its grid platforms easier.
The system, which is available now, has multiple layers of security, including use of the Data Encryption
Standard, the Secure Sockets Layer algorithm and United Devices' proprietary MPSign digital signature
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