ITU-T Technology Watch Reports
Distributed Computing: Utilities, Grids & Clouds (March 2009)1
Distributed Computing:Utilities, Grids & Clouds
The spread of high-speed broadbandnetworks in developed countries, thecontinual increase in computing power, andthe growth of the Internet have changedthe way in which society managesinformation and information services.Geographically distributed resources, suchas storage devices, data sources, andsupercomputers, are interconnected andcan be exploited by users around the worldas single, unified resource. To a growingextent, repetitive or resource-intensive ITtasks can be outsourced to serviceproviders, which execute the task and oftenprovide the results at a lower cost. A newparadigm is emerging in which computing isoffered as a utility by third parties wherebythe user is billed only for consumption.This service-oriented approach fromorganizations offering a large portfolio of services can be scalable and flexible.This report describes the advent of newforms of distributed computing, notably gridand cloud computing, the applications thatthey enable, and their potential impact onfuture standardization. The idea of distributing resources within computernetworks is not new. It dates back toremote job entry on mainframe computersand the initial use of data entry terminals.This was expanded first with minicomputers,then with personal computers (PCs) andtwo-tier client-server architecture. Whilethe PC offered more autonomy on thedesktop, the trend is moving back to client-server architecture with additional tiers, butnow the server is not in-house.Not only improvements in computercomponent technology but also incommunication protocols paved the way fordistributed computing. Networks based onSystems Network Architecture (SNA),created by IBM in 1974, and on ITU-T’sX.25, approved in March 1976
, enabledlarge-scale public and private datanetworks. These were gradually replaced bymore efficient or less complex protocols,notably TCP/IP. Broadband networksextend the geographical reach of distributed computing, as the client-serverrelationship can extend across borders andcontinents.A number of new paradigms and termsrelated to distributed computing have beenintroduced, promising to deliver IT as aservice. While experts disagree on theprecise boundaries between these newcomputing models, the following tableprovides a rough taxonomy.
Software as aService (SaaS)
Infrastructureas a Service(IaaS)
Platform as aService (PaaS)
Exchangeabil-ity / Locationindependence
It is difficult to draw lines between theseparadigms: Some commentators say thatgrid, utility and cloud computing refer tothe same thing; others believe there areonly subtle distinctions among them, whileothers would claim they refer to completelydifferent phenomenon.
There are no clearor standard definitions, and it is likely thatvendor A describes the feature set of itscloud solution differently than vendor B.The new paradigms are sometimesanalogized to the electric power grid, whichprovides universal access to electricity andhas had a dramatic impact on social andindustrial development.