NEC begins grid computing trial with Mazda Motors

NEC begins grid computing trial with Mazda Motors

NEC Corporation is to provide Mazda Motor Corp. with an experimental grid computing system that will undergo testing in 2005, the companies said today. If the tests are successful, NEC hopes to become a major grid computing systems vendor to large enterprises in Japan and internationally, the company said.

NEC is supplying between 20 and 30 of its Express model servers and associated middleware to Mazda for the test program, which will run from April 2005 through March 2006, according to Yasuhito Jochi, an NEC company spokesman.

"This is only a test system," he said. "If we are successful, we would like to sell them many servers."

NEC did not give the value of the contract. Mazda is sharing half the cost with Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, Jochi said.

The experimental system, which is NEC's first venture into the commercial grid computing business, is part of METI's Business Grid Computing Project. Several universities and national institutes are also taking part, as are NEC's competitors Hitachi Ltd. and Fujitsu Ltd. The project, which began last year, has two more years to run. It aims to standardize grid computing technologies.

The grid computing system for Mazda is designed to provide a backup for the company's IT systems in the event of a disaster and to cut the company's IT costs by distributing computing more efficiently across Mazda's networks, NEC said. For example, the system will test how quickly and reliably servers hand over functions to each other.

The companies would not reveal cost-cutting or efficiency targets.

Mazda currently uses hundreds of servers from various makers, said Toshio Yamane, a company spokesman. If Mazda deploys a grid computing system across all its networks, the company could significantly reduce the amount of money it has to spend on new servers when it updates its systems, he said.

"If we adopt grid computing, it means we will have to buy fewer servers in the future and we can cut down our IT investment costs," Yamane said.

The experimental system will only be used for Mazda's domestic networks. The servers will be installed in the company's Hiroshima headquarters, he said.

Mazda's IT network encompasses several hundred servers, and additional backup systems, according to the companies. In Japan, Mazda has two auto making factories, a network of 317 dealerships, 1,170 outlets and 1,086 components suppliers, according to Yamane. Globally, the company had 4,592 outlets. If the system meets expectations, then the company will consider applying grid computing internationally and using it in parts procurement and supply chain management, he said.

"It's something that we cannot afford not to think about, but we haven't made any decisions yet," Yamane said.

In August, NEC announced the development of a prototype middleware system for grid computing environments capable of controlling the hardware and network as well as the applications and services running on data center servers. The company said it planned to put the system on sale within two years.

The experimental system for Mazda, however, is a custom solution that does not contain the prototype middleware, according to Jochi. NEC hopes that Mazda will purchase a full-scale grid computing system, he said.

The system for Mazda is the first time NEC has designed and developed a corporate grid computing system, according to Jochi. NEC intends to become a major vendor of grid computing systems in 2007, he said.

"Right now, in Japan, the market for corporate grid computing is zero," Jochi said. "We'd like it to become a big business in a few years from now, and we are targeting large enterprises like Mazda that have dozens or hundreds of branches and subsidiaries."

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