XGrid or the future of computing

by Francois Joseph de Kermadec

Related link: http://www.apple.com/acg/xgrid/

After the last Macworld expo, everyone was looking at the shiny new iPod mini and at iLive '04...

However, practically nothing was said about Apple's Advanced Computation Group and its latest release, XGrid... Except for a few news on rumor sites and a press release from Apple, this technology was released very quietly...

After all, XGrid isn't an application for the Home user, right ? How many people would want to use a solution for parallel and distributed high performance computing ? Probably a few universities but not the general public ? Well, I am not sure...

Since XGrid had such a cool icon and had gotten very positive reviews from many scientists around the world , I knew I had to download it and check it out...

To my surprise, this distributed computing turned out to be quite fun : XGrid can be installed like any application on your Macs and you just need to use a preferences pane to create a cluster, ready to be used in a matter of minutes. Since this is an Apple technology, there is no need to do any network configuration whatsoever : all the clustered computers discover themselves on-the-fly, join the cluster as soon as they are idle and focus back on their user's instructions as soon as he or she returns to his keyboard... In fact, you could install this on anyone's computer without changing this person's workflow in any way the only difference is that the regular screen saver is replaced by a program that displays the cluster's power on the screen ( in a very cool way, might I add ) and tells the cluster controller that the computer it is running on is free to do some calculation.

Of course, the whole thing can be firewalled, password-protected and tunneled through a VPN for maximum security... Neat, eh ?

In fact, XGrid is so easy to use that I was able to create a cluster consisting of an iMac, an iBook and a PowerBook, all over AirPort... I know, I know... Calling this a cluster is ridiculous but it gives you an idea of how convenient and portable XGrid is...

Imagine for a second what can be done in universities or companies in which dozens -- if not hundreds -- of Macs stay idle at night, during lunch breaks or holidays ! Sure, you won't re-create Virginia Tech in the accounting department but the performance boost can be tremendous !

Of course, XGrid is a technology preview for now and is aimed at scientists or experienced administrators who know what it can do. In its current iteration, it won't speed iMovie up for you or turn the coffee maker on. However, Apple has made it so easy to set up that I would bet that we will soon see XGrid enter our homes, built right into Mac OS X or consumer applications... After all, we all have small LANs at home now and the idea of tapping into shared resources to speed everyone's computing experience up is really promising...

I can only encourage you to go check XGrid, download it and subscribe to the mailing list ! Great things are going to happen for sure and you wouldn't want to miss that, would you ?

Until next time, dear Mac users, enjoy thinking different !

And you, how do you use XGrid ?


2004-01-28 15:12:37
Home Grids
I for one would love XGrid to be part of the MacOS to help share processing across multiple home Macs.

I'm now talking many home users into upgrading from G3 iMacs to G4 eMacs and they are going to play with iMovie and iDVD. Both of these apps could spin out work to the old iMacs.

2004-01-29 07:26:41
School use
I work at a school where we have a limited number of iMacs using iMovie. As they age and applications require more processing power, this is just another way the Mac will be able to outlast the PC in its lifespan. Money well spent.
2004-01-29 08:27:24
It's iLife not iLive!!!!!
2004-01-29 09:04:34
I agree
I thought Xgrid was the big news at MWSF.

I imagine that some imaginative uses of Xgrid might appear at MacHack or the WWDC this year.

I even imagined that we might read where some iBook rich middle school teachers in Henrico County VA might collaborate with their collegues at sister school VA Tech, and come up with a way to Xgrid (can Xgrid be a verb now) a music classroom full of iBooks into a multichannel recording studio using multiple copies of GarageBand.

2004-01-29 15:26:40
Pro Apps the key here...
The best use I can think of for XGrid is in the Pro Apps arena - using spare cycles on adjacent machines to speed up rendering of FCP effects, DVD encoding and the like. The benefit of merely doubling the available speed - turning a one-hour render into a half-hour job over lunch - makes a huge difference when the client's an hour away and you're right on deadline... It could be very powerful indeed.