Gateway Gears Up Grid Computing Push

PC maker 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.

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."

Gateways grid computing concept was born out of the Poway, Calif., companys New Ventures Organization, a division created early this year to explore opportunities to grow revenues and customer base.

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, theyre 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.

Gateways 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 system.