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Commodity Computing

Miron Livny
University of Wisconsin
November 1, 2001
The recent dramatic decrease in the cost-performance ratio of processing, storage and communication hardware has turned computing into a commodity. Computers and disks are considered "supplies" and are purchased under the same budget category as pencils and erasers. As a result of this trend, we can find today's powerful computing and storage capabilities resting on office desks, piled on laboratory shelves or mounted on racks in machine rooms. These abundant computing and storage resources are managed by of-the-shelf software and are interconnected by high-speed networks. Individuals and small groups own these resources and exercise full control over their usage. Researchers and engineers in academia, research laboratories and industry are looking for frameworks and software tools that will enable them to harness this power. In the talk we will discuss the challenges we face in transforming "communities" of loosely coupled and distributively owned commodity hardware and software into effective computing environments. We will present what we believe to be the key mechanisms required to turn such communities into dependable systems capable of delivering large amounts of computing cycles over very long time periods. The talk is based on our decade long experience with the Condor high throughput computing system, close interaction with a wide range of domain scientists and our recent involvement in national efforts to develop and build computational and data grids.

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