Comparison of Grids and Conventional Supercomputers
“Distributed” or “grid” computing in general is a special type of parallel computing that relies on complete computers (with onboard CPUs, storage, power supplies, network interfaces, etc.) connected to a network (private, public or the Internet) by a conventional network interface, such as Ethernet. This is in contrast to the traditional notion of a supercomputer, which has many processors connected by a local high-speed computer bus.
The primary advantage of distributed computing is that each node can be purchased as commodity hardware, which, when combined, can produce a similar computing resource as multiprocessor supercomputer, but at a lower cost. This is due to the economies of scale of producing commodity hardware, compared to the lower efficiency of designing and constructing a small number of custom supercomputers. The primary performance disadvantage is that the various processors and local storage areas do not have high-speed connections. This arrangement is thus well-suited to applications in which multiple parallel computations can take place independently, without the need to communicate intermediate results between processors. The high-end scalability of geographically dispersed grids is generally favorable, due to the low need for connectivity between nodes relative to the capacity of the public Internet.
There are also some differences in programming and deployment. It can be costly and difficult to write programs that can run in the environment of a supercomputer, which may have a custom operating system, or require the program to address concurrency issues. If a problem can be adequately parallelized, a “thin” layer of “grid” infrastructure can allow conventional, standalone programs, given a different part of the same problem, to run on multiple machines. This makes it possible to write and debug on a single conventional machine, and eliminates complications due to multiple instances of the same program running in the same shared memory and storage space at the same time.
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