Crowd-Power: Strengths and Weaknesses of Grid Computing
“The cloud” has become one of those things that is such a boon to Internet users that it seems sacrilege to suggest that something else might be able to do the same thing. Yet its grandfather, "the grid", is still kicking and, with its own unique strengths and weaknesses, proving it has a place on the web even as its skies grow cloudier than ever. Some say the cloud will eventually replace the grid, but there is reason to believe that grandpa hasn't yet worn out his welcome.
Grid computing involves crowd-sourcing unused processor and memory resources to perform tasks. Not only is it easy for the client to use, but its also cheap for the provider to set up. It is also democratic because every node in the grid is an equal and independent contributor to the product. Because it uses unused computing resources, it is easy for grids to accumulate huge total resources.
A good example is Majestic 12, which is a search engine project run from thousands of nodes on a grid aimed at providing Google-like service with an open-source algorithm. In 2009 it was second only to its commercial rival in number of URLs indexed. Sheer power, of course, isn't everything; the vast majority of users still prefer Google.
Perhaps one of the most interesting and successful applications of grid computing is peer-to-peer torrent downloading software like Vuze and BitTorent. By having grid users create and upload the same data that they consume, torrent downloading is always happening because some users will always be on and practically impossible to stop because there is no head to cut off, so to speak.
The resultant monster has defined the internet and the outside world. The Recording Industry Association of America claims that music sales have dropped 47% since the advent of Napster. Others question the honesty of this statistic, but the scale of peer-to-peer downloading is undeniable.
Uploading and downloading data, however, is a very simple function, and it is unlikely that the same effect could be achieved with more demanding tasks. Many people find the cloud easier to use and more powerful when it comes to doing most personal and professional tasks these days. Because every computer is a security risk in a grid, the cloud is also much safer (although not always).
Nevertheless, grid computing may have found another sweetheart in the Internet world these days in social networking. Like peer-to-peer downloading, social networking users produce and consume all of their data, and activity between users is entirely content sharing. Facebook uses its own grid for its network, and it is not hard to see how one programmer could just cut out the middleman and make a FaceTorrent.