Grid computing is likely to find widespread mainstream success, despite barriers that have so far limited its adoption to technical circles, a new survey by IDC has argued. In the next four years, Western European grid server revenues will amount to $1.8 billion in both commercial and technical sectors, the company said.
The study, titled "The Western European Grid Computing Server Market Opportunity", is an attempt to bring some definition to a market which IDC admits is currently in its early stages. Grid computing allows organisations to treat computing power as a virtualised resource, which can be swapped as needed between different departments or even rented from an outside supplier.
Early applications have included super-computers made up of numerous clustered PCs and efforts in the scientific community, particularly the CERN particle physics laboratory, to share computing resources from institutions around the world. From there the grid concept has spread into the commercial sector, with companies such as IBM, Sun, Oracle and HP promoting the concept as a way for companies to cut costs.
Despite scepticism, grid computing is becoming a commercial reality in Europe, IDC found. The driving factor is a real interest in and demand for more efficient and lower-cost computing, shown by the increasing number of European companies going through a process of IT standardisation and consolidation, according to Nathaniel Martinez, programme manager of IDC's European enterprise server group.
The company identified three distinct segments of the emerging grid market: computing, data and optimisation. Early commercial applications have centred on the pooling and allocation of resources across different business services. However, early adoption has been limited mainly to high-performance computing, particularly large batch-oriented grids.
While confident that grids will become a commercial reality, IDC's Martinez admitted that businesses are currently far from convinced. "Like past technologies, adoption will be highly dependent on successful early adopter reference projects in the marketplace, the perceived cost-benefit ratio of future adoption, and indeed, the increased costs of late adoption," he said.
Among the many barriers preventing wider adoption of grids in the enterprise are the lack of tools and commercial applications running in a grid environment, and the lack of industry standards allowing different vendors' products to work together. Without standardisation, companies will continue to think of grids as requiring expensive technicians and services, IDC said; this undermines their whole purpose - to be more efficient and save money.
Companies also had cultural and organisational barriers to sharing resources across business units, and were concerned over security, IDC said.
An Oracle grid survey in September found that the UK is lagging behind France and the Benelux countries when it comes to installing grid technology, but UK IT managers are much more aware about the capabilities of the technology and are outscoring their European colleagues.
Only 22 percent of IT managers surveyed claimed to understand the technology and most saw the technology as something discussed by marketing professionals and the media, rather than having any relevance for real-world computing.