Grid Computing - Design Considerations and Variations

Design Considerations and Variations

One feature of distributed grids is that they can be formed from computing resources belonging to multiple individuals or organizations (known as multiple administrative domains). This can facilitate commercial transactions, as in utility computing, or make it easier to assemble volunteer computing networks.

One disadvantage of this feature is that the computers which are actually performing the calculations might not be entirely trustworthy. The designers of the system must thus introduce measures to prevent malfunctions or malicious participants from producing false, misleading, or erroneous results, and from using the system as an attack vector. This often involves assigning work randomly to different nodes (presumably with different owners) and checking that at least two different nodes report the same answer for a given work unit. Discrepancies would identify malfunctioning and malicious nodes.

Due to the lack of central control over the hardware, there is no way to guarantee that nodes will not drop out of the network at random times. Some nodes (like laptops or dialup Internet customers) may also be available for computation but not network communications for unpredictable periods. These variations can be accommodated by assigning large work units (thus reducing the need for continuous network connectivity) and reassigning work units when a given node fails to report its results in expected time.

The impacts of trust and availability on performance and development difficulty can influence the choice of whether to deploy onto a dedicated computer cluster, to idle machines internal to the developing organization, or to an open external network of volunteers or contractors. In many cases, the participating nodes must trust the central system not to abuse the access that is being granted, by interfering with the operation of other programs, mangling stored information, transmitting private data, or creating new security holes. Other systems employ measures to reduce the amount of trust “client” nodes must place in the central system such as placing applications in virtual machines.

Public systems or those crossing administrative domains (including different departments in the same organization) often result in the need to run on heterogeneous systems, using different operating systems and hardware architectures. With many languages, there is a trade off between investment in software development and the number of platforms that can be supported (and thus the size of the resulting network). Cross-platform languages can reduce the need to make this trade off, though potentially at the expense of high performance on any given node (due to run-time interpretation or lack of optimization for the particular platform). There are diverse scientific and commercial projects to harness a particular associated grid or for the purpose of setting up new grids. BOINC is a common one for various academic projects seeking public volunteers; more are listed at the end of the article.

In fact, the middleware can be seen as a layer between the hardware and the software. On top of the middleware, a number of technical areas have to be considered, and these may or may not be middleware independent. Example areas include SLA management, Trust and Security, Virtual organization management, License Management, Portals and Data Management. These technical areas may be taken care of in a commercial solution, though the cutting edge of each area is often found within specific research projects examining the field.

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