Microsoft preparing a grid-computing OS
[Computer][Future Technology]

Sources have leaked that Microsoft may be working on a grid-computing OS. The idea behind grid computing is to take lots of small computers and connect them (via a network) so it looks like one super computer. Usually this stuff is only used for specialized scientific computing, where the kind of number crunching might take thousands of years on an ordinary computer. Some distributions of Linux already have grid computing support, but it's designed with scientific computing in mind. My hopes is that Microsoft will bring grid-computing technology to the home user. Imagine these scenarios:

You're working on a home movie or anime music video or something, and you've applied all sorts of crazy special effects. When you click the final render button, the work is spread amongst all your computers. Given that you can get a computer with a 2.4Ghz processor for about $400 CDN, spend $3000, and you've 18Ghz grid computer.

You're a digital movie buff, and you want to rip all your DVDs onto your harddrive and form a movie collection the way other mere mortals rip their CDs to form a music collection. You're looking at something like 4 to 8 gigs a movies, if you don't lower the quality via compression, and keep all the extra features (alternative languages, camera angles, etc.) A typical motherboard can only hold 4 harddrives, and if you only buy 300GB harddrives, that makes about 225 movies. Sure, you could then buy external harddrives, but then you'd have all these funny blocks sticking out of your computer. If you've got your case on the floor like I do, you'll probably trip over the wires (or roll over them with your chair) and unplug something, or worst, crush the harddrive completely. Instead, buy 20 computers, each with 4 harddrives of 120GB, and hide 19 of them in your attic, keeping the last one in your room. That's 9600GBs, or enough room for 1600 uncompressed movies. Make 'em all 300GBs and that gives you 24000GB or 4000 movies. The grid computing OS will make it look like you have one giant harddrive, and distribute the files across all the computers depending on whichever harddrive has free space.

You've put a computer in every room. When you're in your bedroom, you can listen to your mp3s, view your photos, read your e-mail, and whatever else you want. That's your computer. Move to the living room though, and you're at a different computer. Not all the settings are the same. Maybe your MSN password isn't "automatically remembered" at this one. Maybe your favourite game isn't installed here. Similarly for your kitchen computer. With grid computing, since all the hardware is shared anyway, it doesn't really matter what computer you're at. You settings are associated with your account, not with which computer you're sitting at. If the computer you're at doesn't have the information you want, it'll find the computer that does and get it for you.

Grid computing isn't magical though: There are some things it can't do. For example, speeding up games. When the work splitting is done, the computer you're sitting at sends out a message asking "Are there any idle CPUs? I need some calculations done." A couple of them might respond "Yeah, we're idle." And then your computer will say "Okay, here are the formulas that I need you to calculate. Send me the results when you're done." All of this takes time. Not much time, mind you. Perhaps something like 100 milliseconds, but if your game is going at 60 frames per second, that means a frame needs to be drawn every 17 milliseconds. That means the time between when you press a button, and when your onscreen character fires his gun has to be within 17 milliseconds. Asking another computer to do the work is too slow.

The codename for the project is "BigTop", and a lot of the code for it is written in C# (cool!), and they don't plan to finish it before 2010. However, they are planning on releasing a preview of the OS to large businesses by 2006. You can read the full report at Microsoft Watch.

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