Grid computing has been touted as a solution to large-scale problem-solving, costly infrastructure and sluggish systems. But could grid computing benefit the business user and the corporate enterprise? We asked the Deloitte chief information officer panel whether grid computing might hold some innovative answers to common infrastructure problems.

Grid computing has a very different approach to the typical corporate IT system. Instead of using one computer to deal with queries, requests for data or specific transactions, there will be hundreds linked and working together.

Grid computing divides each “task” into parts and pushes these out to many computers to be processed. This “smart” sub-division of tasks means that results are delivered very quickly.

Originally the technology was pioneered by Nasa in the late 1990s to unleash vast processing power for numerical analysis and scientific calculations. Given its roots in highly technical applications, it is unsurprising that only 10 per cent of our CIO panel is currently using the technology in computing intensive applications, and a further 10 per cent is evaluating the benefit of deployment in its organisations within the next year.

According to half of those surveyed, there are several substantial barriers to introduction. CIOs are concerned about the shortage of relevant skills in the marketplace to manage grid software, the level of customisation, development and complexity it requires. Of equal concern is that the technology is not yet mature and many cannot establish a business case for its adoption. By contrast, the key drivers for take-up are simple but powerful including increased flexibility, cost reduction and improved agility.

Despite significant media attention on the business benefits and the potential value to the enterprise, our panel believes that there are several viable substitutes to grid computing. Of the panel, 70 per cent sees server consolidation and 50 per cent outsourcing to a specialist as potential alternatives.

What is clear from our panel is that take-up is not yet in line with vendor positioning in the market, and corporate decision-makers are still clearly reticent to invest in an apparently complex technology.

Grid computing is a largely untapped resource in the corporate arena. CIOs believe that it will add a new level of complexity to their infrastructures, just when there is a major drive for simplification.

Several incidents over the years highlight how and where grid computing could have come into its own. The unprecedented demand to access the 1901 census, when it first went online in 2003, literally gridlocked records office systems.

Technology that helps enterprises to manage uncertainty and find new ways of profiting from it should be high up the agenda.

So what is holding back public and private sector users? We believe the different labels associated with grid computing have led to confusion about its uses and applications.

In our view, this is a technology with huge potential, and wider adoption will be driven by the development of management tools and methods to support infrastructure management and address one of CIOs biggest concerns – the issue of complexity.

We believe CIOs should ask themselves, not “what could grid computing do for my current business model?” but “what new business models might grid computing enable us to explore?”

John Starling is Principal in Consulting at Deloitte

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