A form of networking, grid computing is applying the resources of many computers in a network to a single problem at the same time. According to John Patrick, IBM's vice-president for Internet strategies, "the next big thing will be grid computing."
Most commonly used for a scientific or technical problem that requires a great number of computer processing cycles or access to large amounts of data, one of the most popular examples of grid computing in the public domain is the ongoing SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) @Home project in which thousands of people are sharing the unused processor cycles of their PCs in the vast search for signs of "rational" signals from outer space. This method saves the project both money and resources.
Practically speaking, a number of corporations, professional groups, universities, and others are developing frameworks and software for managing grid computing projects. Charles Schwab, IBM, and Hewlett-Packard are among a handful of companies (both big and small) that are attracted by the allure of the grid, not the least of which is its willingness to bestow its services for free.
Technically speaking, the European Community (EU) is sponsoring a project for a grid for high-energy physics, earth observation, and biology applications. In the United States, the National Technology Grid is prototyping a computational grid for infrastructure and an access grid for people. Sun Microsystems offers Grid Engine software. Described as a distributed resource management (DRM) tool, Grid Engine allows engineers at companies like Sony and Synopsys to pool the computer cycles on up to 80 workstations at a time.
The main difference between conventional networks and grid computing is that conventional networks focus on communication among devices; grid computing harnesses unused processing cycles of all computers in a network for solving problems too intensive for any stand-alone machine. Grid computing requires special software that is unique to the computing project for which the grid is being used.