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Analysis: Open-Source Projects Offer Free Grid Computing For Microsoft .Net

The open-source Alchemi and NGrids projects could make grid computing practical for midsized companies.

The open-source Alchemi project run by the University of Melbourne, Australia, and the open-source NGrid project can help jump-start the next generation of grid computing for the Microsoft .Net platform.

Until now, these virtual supercomputing platforms were accessible only to large financial firms, federal government agencies and universities. But these projects might just turn this field around and by allowing midsize companies to do massive parallel processing on any available hardware. More important, with these technologies, any solution provider with Visual Basic or C# experience can create grid-enabled programs in minutes.

For a long time now, the mysticism behind parallelism has rested on archaic methods to split logic so that logical programming processes could be broken into single tasks and work independently. Yet parallel programs also can work well on data-intensive applications, which make up the bulk of business applications.

So just about any organization that processes large volumes of data or that needs to perform data analysis can take advantage of virtual computing. Local government agencies, including policy departments, also are ideal places for deploying grids. These agencies are always interested in human intelligence and human activity tracking, which requires high computing power.

The efforts of the Alchemi and NGrid projects make grid computing extremely easy. In the case of Alchemi, setting up a grid is as easy as installing an Alchemi Manager module on one PC and an Alchemi Executor module on another. Alchemi provides a hierarchical grid model in which a manager can also become an executor. This technique forces a tree structure that always maintains a top-level manager to control all distributed agents.

NGrid, on the other hand, provides a distributed architecture--instead of a hierarchical one--by abstracting physical grids and allowing managers to share memory through a "garbage collecting" model. This model might provide new ways to perform grid computing on a massive scale.

In addition to .Net efforts, both projects aim to build platform independent grids so that Linux grids can integrate with them. However, NGrid is part of the Mono project, so it works directly on Linux machines. The Alchemi project is now at version 1, so it is a stable product. And besides grid-enabling .Net applications, Alchemi provides a file-based grid job model to run jobs. Alchemi also supports any .Net language.

Both products can be found at www.alchemi.net and ngrid.sourceforge.net.

MARIO MOREJON is a technical editor for the CRN Test Center.

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