The analogy is striking, and the coincidence as well. I have recently had a chat with Anthony Candiello (from INFN’s Grid Computing Technology Transfer Office) about one of the most fascinating trends in technology, the one he calls Great Global Grid. I was unsure about using the "GGG" acronym in this post but, after reading Guido’s post about Tim Berners Lee and his own guess for the next big thing (another GGG: the Giant Global Graph, a triple-letter-enhanced semantic web), I could not resist.
While the semantic web is an evolutionary step forward from what happened 15 years ago when the web as we know it became popular, the grid represents a discontinuity: the web gave us the promise of ubiquitous content and the semantic web envisions a better way to make use of that content by making it readable in a structured, algorithmic fashion. The grid, on the other hand, brings forward the vision of ubiquitous computational power, accessible when and where it is needed.
The Seti@Home project is perhaps the best known among data-crunching, flops-hungry initiatives, but computational power is a needed resource in many research initiatives and the European Grid Initiative aims at establishing a common e-Science infrastructure, in support of all sciences (but again, as it happened with the web, researchers in Physics are under the limelight).
To this day already 38 National Grid Initiatives in Europe have
recognised the need to link existing national grid initiatives and to
support the setup and initiation of new grid initiatives. The EGI
project will interact and encourage the member states to make the
strategic decisions required to establish and support a sustainable
grid infrastructure and initiate its implementation.
The competitive advantage for the European Union coming from the
availability of a mature, reliable grid computing infrastructure can be
easily seen in the field of applied research, but many small and medium enterprises might have computing-intensive tasks that need to be run in a discontinuous mode and could find great benefit in gaining the ability to run them through a publicly accessible, shared infrastructure.
Grid technologies still have a long way to go before they reach the maturity level of data-transmitting networks or power grids, and the idea of connecting an application to the grid in the same way as we plug a hairdryer in the socket is not here yet, although the right tools are being developed. But the experience is very solid, and the european infrastructure is "in production" since 2000. And, as it did not happen with the world wide web, Europe must take advantage of the initial competitive advantage and rapidly find new ways to leverage, exploit and connect it with the business in ways that are unheard of…