Microsoft Heats Grid Iron with 'Bigtop'

Details have emerged revealing Microsoft's intentions to enter the grid-computing space by developing what will most likely be a distributed operating system. As first reported by Microsoft Watch, the project, code-named "Bigtop," will couple together moderately powerful computers into grids to allow customers to maximize computing power and create low-budget, high-performance systems.

Grids are software engines that pool together and manage resources from isolated systems to form a new type of supercomputer. Once considered to be the gilded plaything of researchers, grids are currently being harnessed in finance, engineering, and even the battle against cancer.

Grids will also power Sony's upcoming PlayStation 3 game console, making individual consoles as powerful as supercomputers when scaled up.


Perhaps most significantly in the case of Microsoft, grids maximize existing IT infrastructure and forestall the need to purchase new hardware. What's more, grids are flexible enough to be customized and sized to the task at hand: Campus Grids are local, while global grids can transcend borders.

Microsoft Watch has revealed that Bigtop consists of three separate modules, each programmed in C#: Highwire, Bigparts and Bigwin. Highwire automates the development of highly parallel distributed applications; Bigparts turns inexpensive PC-devices in multi-purpose servers and enables real-time devce-specific hardware to be moved off of PCs; and Bigwin is a Web services framework where applications are operating system services (hosted both locally and on the Web) that meet basic behavioral requirements.

Bigtop is the latest grain of sand that has leaked out of Redmond concerning its grid strategy. Aside from Bigtop, Microsoft Research is actively engaged in studying distributed computing with projects ranging from Farsite -- a fault tolerant remote file system -- to Millennium, a project to build distributed systems. The company has also financed university studies.

But despite all of the progress, grid computing has a long road ahead; deliverables are not expected until several years from now.

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