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Watch for the Grid

There's too much going on here to ignore. Folks from governments, research institutes, universities, and big corps are gathering together in sparely furnished conference halls, talking in excited, almost embarrassed tones, about something called "the Grid," with techie phrases like data mining, Web services, information utilities, and virtual organizations.

IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) is positioning itself to build a whole services business around it, while Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), and Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW) are all developing Grid strategies.

In homes around the U.S., kids are logging onto Butterfly.net and gaming in ways that depart radically from Microsoft's hopes for the Xbox. Protocols are being designed, virtual organizations envisioned. It sounds like the beginnings of the Internet years ago: a technology initially designed for the military or research organizations finding its way into the imaginations of capitalists, children, and a few of us who are not quite either.

This time around, it's about taking what there is on the Web and adding a method for tying together servers, storage, and computing resources to create virtual organizations, virtual worlds, or virtual supercomputers.

Consider how having affordable access to a supercomputer could help your business. You could offload computation-intensive projects onto the Grid (ASIC design, 3D modeling, scientific calculations, genome mapping, pharmacology, digital movie effects, you name it) and go about your day's work. Different organizations, different companies, or even different governments can use the Grid to collaborate, demonstrate, and create new projects (warfare and its devastating effects, predictably).

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