Distributed Computing: Unraveling the Power of Parallelism & Cloud Systems
Did you know you’re participating in a distributed computing system simply by reading this article? That’s right, the massive network that is the internet is an example of distributed computing, as is every application that uses the world wide web.
Distributed computing involves getting multiple computing units to work together to solve a single problem or perform a single task. Distributing the workload across multiple interconnected units leads to the formation of a super-computer that has the resources to deal with virtually any challenge.
Without this approach, large-scale operations involving computers would be all but impossible. Sure, this has significant implications for scientific research and big data processing. But it also hits close to home for an average internet user. No distributed computing means no massively multiplayer online games, e-commerce websites, or social media networks.
With all this in mind, let’s look at this valuable system in more detail and discuss its advantages, disadvantages, and applications.
Basics of Distributed Computing
Distributed computing aims to make an entire computer network operate as a single unit. Read on to find out how this is possible.
Components of a Distributed System
A distributed system has three primary components: nodes, communication channels, and middleware.
The entire premise of distributed computing is breaking down one giant task into several smaller subtasks. And who deals with these subtasks? The answer is nodes. Each node (independent computing unit within a network) gets a subtask.
For nodes to work together, they must be able to communicate. That’s where communication channels come into play.
Middleware is the middleman between the underlying infrastructure of a distributed computing system and its applications. Both sides benefit from it, as it facilitates their communication and coordination.
Types of Distributed Systems
Coordinating the essential components of a distributed computing system in different ways results in different distributed system types.
A client-server system consists of two endpoints: clients and servers. Clients are there to make requests. Armed with all the necessary data, servers are the ones that respond to these requests.
The internet, as a whole, is a client-server system. If you’d like a more specific example, think of how streaming platforms (Netflix, Disney+, Max) operate.
Peer-to-peer systems take a more democratic approach than their client-server counterparts: they allocate equal responsibilities to each unit in the network. So, no unit holds all the power and each unit can act as a server or a client.
Content sharing through clients like BitTorrent, file streaming through apps like Popcorn Time, and blockchain networks like Bitcoin are some well-known examples of peer-to-peer systems.
Coordinate a grid of geographically distributed resources (computers, networks, servers, etc.) that work together to complete a common task, and you get grid computing.
Whether belonging to multiple organizations or far away from each other, nothing will stop these resources from acting as a uniform computing system.
In cloud computing, centralized data centers store data that organizations can access on demand. These centers might be centralized, but each has a different function. That’s where the distributed system in cloud computing comes into play.
Thanks to the role of distributed computing in cloud computing, there’s no limit to the number of resources that can be shared and accessed.
Key Concepts in Distributed Computing
For a distributed computing system to operate efficiently, it must have specific qualities.
If workload growth is an option, scalability is a necessity. Amp up the demand in a distributed computing system, and it responds by adding more nodes and consuming more resources.
In a distributed computing system, nodes must rely on each other to complete the task at hand. But what happens if there’s a faulty node? Will the entire system crash? Fortunately, it won’t, and it has fault tolerance to thank.
Instead of crashing, a distributed computing system responds to a faulty node by switching to its working copy and continuing to operate as if nothing happened.
A distributed computing system will go through many ups and downs. But through them all, it must uphold consistency across all nodes. Without consistency, a unified and up-to-date system is simply not possible.
Concurrency refers to the ability of a distributed computing system to execute numerous processes simultaneously.
Parallel computing and distributed computing have this quality in common, leading many to mix up these two models. But there’s a key difference between parallel and distributed computing in this regard. With the former, multiple processors or cores of a single computing unit perform the simultaneous processes. As for distributed computing, it relies on interconnected nodes that only act as a single unit for the same task.
Despite their differences, both parallel and distributed computing systems have a common enemy to concurrency: deadlocks (blocking of two or more processes). When a deadlock occurs, concurrency goes out of the window.
Advantages of Distributed Computing
There are numerous reasons why using distributed computing is a good idea:
- Improved performance. Access to multiple resources means performing at peak capacity, regardless of the workload.
- Resource sharing. Sharing resources between several workstations is your one-way ticket to efficiently completing computation tasks.
- Increased reliability and availability. Unlike single-system computing, distributed computing has no single point of failure. This means welcoming reliability, consistency, and availability and bidding farewell to hardware vulnerabilities and software failures.
- Scalability and flexibility. When it comes to distributed computing, there’s no such thing as too much workload. The system will simply add new nodes and carry on. No centralized system can match this level of scalability and flexibility.
- Cost-effectiveness. Delegating a task to several lower-end computing units is much more cost-effective than purchasing a single high-end unit.
Challenges in Distributed Computing
Although this offers numerous advantages, it’s not always smooth sailing with distributed systems. All involved parties are still trying to address the following challenges:
- Network latency and bandwidth limitations. Not all distributed systems can handle a massive amount of data on time. Even the slightest delay (latency) can affect the system’s overall performance. The same goes for bandwidth limitations (the amount of data that can be transmitted simultaneously).
- Security and privacy concerns. While sharing resources has numerous benefits, it also has a significant flaw: data security. If a system as open as a distributed computing system doesn’t prioritize security and privacy, it will be plagued by data breaches and similar cybersecurity threats.
- Data consistency and synchronization. A distributed computing system derives all its power from its numerous nodes. But coordinating all these nodes (various hardware, software, and network configurations) is no easy task. That’s why issues with data consistency and synchronization (concurrency) come as no surprise.
- System complexity and management. The bigger the distributed computing system, the more challenging it gets to manage it efficiently. It calls for more knowledge, skills, and money.
- Interoperability and standardization. Due to the heterogeneous nature of a distributed computing system, maintaining interoperability and standardization between the nodes is challenging, to say the least.
Applications of Distributed Computing
Nowadays, distributed computing is everywhere. Take a look at some of its most common applications, and you’ll know exactly what we mean:
- Scientific research and simulations. Distributed computing systems model and simulate complex scientific data in fields like healthcare and life sciences. (For example, accelerating patient diagnosis with the help of a large volume of complex images (CT scans, X-rays, and MRIs).
- Big data processing and analytics. Big data sets call for ample storage, memory, and computational power. And that’s precisely what distributed computing brings to the table.
- Content delivery networks. Delivering content on a global scale (social media, websites, e-commerce stores, etc.) is only possible with distributed computing.
- Online gaming and virtual environments. Are you fond of massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) and virtual reality (VR) avatars? Well, you have distributed computing to thank for them.
- Internet of Things (IoT) and smart devices. At its very core, IoT is a distributed system. It relies on a mixture of physical access points and internet services to transform any devices into smart devices that can communicate with each other.
Future Trends in Distributed Computing
Given the flexibility and usability of distributed computing, data scientists and programmers are constantly trying to advance this revolutionary technology. Check out some of the most promising trends in distributed computing:
- Edge computing and fog computing – Overcoming latency challenges
- Serverless computing and Function-as-a-Service (FaaS) – Providing only the necessary amount of service on demand
- Blockchain – Connecting computing resources of cryptocurrency miners worldwide
- Artificial intelligence and machine learning – Improving the speed and accuracy in training models and processing data
- Quantum computing and distributed systems – Scaling up quantum computers
Distributed Computing Is Paving the Way Forward
The ability to scale up computational processes opens up a world of possibilities for data scientists, programmers, and entrepreneurs worldwide. That’s why current challenges and obstacles to distributed computing aren’t particularly worrisome. With a little more research, the trustworthiness of distributed systems won’t be questioned anymore.
Soon, we will be launching four new Degrees for AY24-25 at OPIT – Open Institute of Technology
I want to offer a behind-the-scenes look at the Product Definition process that has shaped these upcoming programs.
🚀 Phase 1: Discovery (Late May – End of July)
Our journey began with intensive brainstorming sessions with OPIT’s Academic Board (Francesco Profumo, Lorenzo Livi, Alexiei Dingli, Andrea Pescino, Rosario Maccarrone) . We also conducted 50+ interviews with tech and digital entrepreneurs (both from startups and established firms), academics and students. Finally, we deep-dived into the “Future of Jobs 2023” report by the World Economic Forum and other valuable research.
🔍 Phase 2: Selection – Crafting Our Roadmap (July – August)
Our focus? Introducing new degrees addressing critical workforce shortages and upskilling/reskilling needs for the next 5-10 years, promising significant societal impact and a broad market reach.
Our decision? To channel our energies on full BScs and MScs, and steer away from shorter courses or corporate-focused offerings. This aligns perfectly with our core mission.
💡 Focus Areas Unveiled!
We’re thrilled to concentrate on pivotal fields like:
- Advanced AI
- Digital Business
- Metaverse & Gaming
- Cloud Computing (less “glamorous”, but market demand is undeniable).
🎓 Phase 3: Definition – Shaping the Degrees (August – November)
With an expert in each of the above fields, and with the strong collaboration of our Academic Director, Prof. Lorenzo Livi , we embarked on a rigorous “drill-down process”. Our goal? To meld modern theoretical knowledge with cutting-edge competencies and skills. This phase included interviewing over 60+ top academics, industry professionals, and students and get valuable, program-specific, insights from our Marketing department.
🌟 Phase 4: Accreditation and Launch – The Final Stretch
We’re currently in the accreditation process, gearing up for the launch. The focus is now shifting towards marketing, working closely with Greta Maiocchi and her Marketing and Admissions team. Together, we’re translating our new academic offering into a compelling value proposition for the market.
Stay tuned for more updates!
Far from being a temporary educational measure that came into its own during the pandemic, online education is providing students from all over the world with new ways to learn. That’s proven by statistics from Oxford Learning College, which point out that over 100 million students are now enrolled in some form of online course.
The demand for these types of courses clearly exists.
In fact, the same organization indicates that educational facilities that introduce online learning see a 42% increase in income – on average – suggesting that the demand is there.
Enter the Open Institute of Technology (OPIT).
Delivering three online courses – a Bachelor’s degree in computer science and two Master’s degrees – with more to come, OPIT is positioning itself as a leader in the online education space. But why is that? After all, many institutions are making the jump to e-learning, so what separates OPIT from the pack?
Here, you’ll discover the answers as you delve into the five reasons why you should trust OPIT for your online education.
Reason 1 – A Practical Approach
OPIT focuses on computer science education – a field in which theory often dominates the educational landscape. The organization’s Rector, Professor Francesco Profumo, makes this clear in a press release from June 2023. He points to a misalignment between what educators are teaching computer science students and what the labor market actually needs from those students as a key problem.
“The starting point is the awareness of the misalignment,” he says when talking about how OPIT structures its online courses. “That so-called mismatch is generated by too much theory and too little practical approach.” In other words, students in many classes spend far too much time learning the “hows” and “whys” behind computerized systems without actually getting their hands dirty with real work that gives them practical experience in using those systems.
OPIT takes a different approach.
It has developed a didactic approach that focuses far more on the practical element than other courses. That approach is delivered through a combination of classroom sessions – such as live lessons and masterclasses – and practical work offered through quizzes and exercises that mimic real-world situations.
An OPIT student doesn’t simply learn how computers work. They put their skills into practice through direct programming and application, equipping them with skills that are extremely attractive to major employers in the tech field and beyond.
Reason 2 – Flexibility Combined With Support
Flexibility in how you study is one of the main benefits of any online course.
You control when you learn and how you do it, creating an environment that’s beneficial to your education rather than being forced into a classroom setting with which you may not feel comfortable. This is hardly new ground. Any online educational platform can claim that it offers “flexibility” simply because it provides courses via the web.
Where OPIT differs is that it combines that flexibility with unparalleled support bolstered by the experiences of teachers employed from all over the world. The founder and director of OPIT, Riccardo Ocleppo, sheds more light on this difference in approach when he says, “We believe that education, even if it takes place physically at a distance, must guarantee closeness on all other aspects.” That closeness starts with the support offered to students throughout their entire study period.
Tutors are accessible to students at all times. Plus, every participant benefits from weekly professor interactions, ensuring they aren’t left feeling stuck on an educational “island” and have to rely solely on themselves for their education. OPIT further counters the potential isolation that comes with online learning with a Student Support team to guide students through any difficulties they may have with their courses.
In this focus on support, OPIT showcases one of its main differences from other online platforms.
You don’t simply receive course material before being told to “get on with it.” You have the flexibility to learn at your own pace while also having a support structure that serves as a foundation for that learning.
Reason 3 – OPIT Can Adapt to Change Quickly
The field of computer science is constantly evolving.
In the 2020s alone, we’ve seen the rise of generative AI – spurred on by the explosive success of services like ChatGPT – and how those new technologies have changed the way that people use computers.
Riccardo Ocleppo has seen the impact that these constant evolutions have had on students. Before founding OPIT, he was an entrepreneur who received first-hand experience of the fact that many traditional educational institutions struggle to adapt to change.
“Traditional educational institutions are very slow to adapt to this wave of new technologies and trends within the educational sector,” he says. He points to computer science as a particular issue, highlighting the example of a board in Italy of which he is a member. That board – packed with some of the country’s most prestigious tech universities – spent three years eventually deciding to add just two modules on new and emerging technologies to their study programs.
That left Ocleppo feeling frustrated.
When he founded OPIT, he did so intending to make it an adaptable institution in which courses were informed by what the industry needs. Every member of its faculty is not only a superb teacher but also somebody with experience working in industry. Speaking of industry, OPIT collaborates with major companies in the tech field to ensure its courses deliver the skills that those organizations expect from new candidates.
This confronts frustration on both sides. For companies, an OPIT graduate is one for which they don’t need to bridge a “skill gap” between what they’ve learned and what the company needs. For you, as a student, it means that you’re developing skills that make you a more desirable prospect once you have your degree.
Reason 4 – OPIT Delivers Tier One Education
Despite their popularity, online courses can still carry a stigma of not being “legitimate” in the face of more traditional degrees. Ocleppo is acutely aware of this fact, which is why he’s quick to point out that OPIT always aims to deliver a Tier One education in the computer science field.
“That means putting together the best professors who create superb learning material, all brought together with a teaching methodology that leverages the advancements made in online teaching,” he says.
OPIT’s degrees are all accredited by the European Union to support this approach, ensuring they carry as much weight as any other European degree. It’s accredited by both the European Qualification Framework (EQF) and the Malta Qualification Framework (MQF), with all of its courses having full legal value throughout Europe.
It’s also here where we see OPIT’s approach to practicality come into play via its course structuring.
Take its Bachelor’s degree in computer science as an example.
Yes, that course starts with a focus on theoretical and foundational knowledge. Building a computer and understanding how the device processes instructions is vital information from a programming perspective. But once those foundations are in place, OPIT delivers on its promises of covering the most current topics in the field.
Machine learning, cloud computing, data science, artificial intelligence, and cybersecurity – all valuable to employers – are taught at the undergraduate level. Students benefit from a broader approach to computer science than most institutions are capable of, rather than bogging them down in theory that serves little practical purpose.
Reason 5 – The Learning Experience
Let’s wrap up by honing in on what it’s actually like for students to learn with OPIT.
After all, as Ocleppo points out, one of the main challenges with online education is that students rarely have defined checkpoints to follow. They can start feeling lost in the process, confronted with a metaphorical ocean of information they need to learn, all in service of one big exam at the end.
Alternatively, some students may feel the temptation to not work through the materials thoroughly, focusing instead on passing a final exam. The result is that those students may pass, but they do so without a full grasp of what they’ve learned – a nightmare for employers who already have skill gaps to handle.
OPIT confronts both challenges by focusing on a continuous learning methodology. Assessments – primarily practical – take place throughout the course, serving as much-needed checkpoints for evaluating progress. When combined with the previously mentioned support that OPIT offers, this approach has led to courses that are created from scratch in service of the student’s actual needs.
Choose OPIT for Your Computer Science Education
At OPIT, the focus lies as much on helping students to achieve their dream careers as it does on teaching them. All courses are built collaboratively. With a dedicated faculty combined with major industry players, such as Google and Microsoft, it delivers materials that bridge the skill gap seen in the computer science field today.
There’s also more to come.
Beyond the three degrees OPIT offers, the institution plans to add more. Game development, data science, and cloud computing, to name a few, will receive dedicated degrees in the coming months, accentuating OPIT’s dedication to adapting to the continuous evolution of the computer science industry. Discover OPIT today – your journey into computing starts with the best online education institution available.