Was it ever alive?
Techies have been excited about grid computing for years. The rest of the world never caught on. They probably never will.

Who killed grid?
A slide from Sun’s recent HPC meeting at SC’07 implicated marketing:

The Grid is Dead…

  • Term falling into discredit
  • Misuse by Corporate marketing departments, including multiple contradictory definitions
  • Failing to live up to expectations
    • Built for specific community
    • Unscalable
    • Expansion efforts only make the situation more unwieldy

The death of grid had 2 causes: a) nobody could agree on what a grid was and b) they were too specialized and didn’t scale.

Yup, marketing killed the grid. If only they’d agreed on a single contradictory definition.

Simple is better
Techies seem to have a mania for inventing a new term when a perfectly good term already exists. In the case of “grid” the term “cluster” would have served admirably.

Among aficionados, a grid is not much like a cluster. To the folks who approve capital authorizations it is hard to tell the difference. Except grids are new and unproven while clusters have been around for decades.

Polite laughter
At IDEMA there was some back and forth between Seagate and other vendors over what to call the recording method that uses lasers to heat the media. Seagate researchers were pushing the catchy “HAMR” – pronounced hammer – an acronym for Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording. Everyone else seemed to like “TAR” for Thermal Assisted Recording.

At one point a senior researcher said he’d been talking to a civilian who asked about the “hummer” technology. Most of the assembled laughed and took this as evidence that HAMR was a bad acronym.

In truth, it is simply evidence that a research PhD does not a marketer make. Disk drives suffer from a dearth of sex-appeal, especially against cool newcomers like NAND flash. HAMR is a much sexier acronym than TAR. And a much better acronym to help keep consumers interested in disk drives.

You know, consumers. The people who buy most of the world’s disk drives.

What if RAID had been SMAD?
Would a Spare Matrix of Autonomous Disks have taken the storage industry by storm the way RAID did? No way. People, even techie people, are social creatures. We use language – even jargon – to signal to others our values and knowledge.

People like RAID so much that even after the original words ceased to have commercial meaning – all disks are inexpensive today – they just changed the word to “independent”. All to keep a cool acronym.

“God is dead.” -Nietzsche. “Nietzsche is dead.” -God.
The Sun presentation’s point was that a new middleware for grid computing was needed so users didn’t need to worry about where and how their jobs would get done. Just ship it up to that big batch mainframe in the cloud, sip your Red Bull and Jack, and let thy work be done.

The StorageMojo take
Product names aren’t all that important. But paradigm-shifting names, like RAID, client-server, clusters, NAS, pNFS and SAN are. Which is the real reason “grid” is dead.

Grid just isn’t suggestive of anything to people who aren’t intimately involved with it already. RAID and HAMR suggests something forceful while TAR sounds like a place I don’t want to go.

So yes, bad marketing killed grid computing. They should have asked the guy who came up with RAID.

Update: The technique of lashing together lots of boxes to perform work isn’t dead. We’re at the beginning of that trend. What is dead is the term “grid”. Its unfortunate connotation of rigid structure and the concomitant “gridlock” don’t do the technology justice. “Cluster” whether hetero- or homogenous, local or wide area, storage, compute or both, is a much better understood term.

Update II: Reading the comments in The Blog of Scott Aaronson, a postdoc at the Institute for Quantum Computation at the University of Waterloo, about the much disputed D-Wave quantum computing demonstrations, he commented:

I think that computer scientists have been much too eager to coin acronyms, and that this has damaged the public perception of our field relative to physics (which has cool names like “quark”, “supersymmetry”, “black hole”…) . . . .

He’s right. If you had to convince yawning non-scientists to fund billions of dollars in sub-atomic physics research you’d probably develop better marketing muscles too.

Comments welcome, of course. If you don’t like cluster, what would you call grid computing?