The benefits of grid computing can reach the customer directly, as evidenced by Charles Schwab's (San Francisco, $45.9 billion in assets) approach to online portfolio analysis. "For their retail business, you used to have to go to a branch office and request a portfolio analysis," says Dr. Willy Chiu, vice president of high performance, on-demand solutions for the software division of IBM (Armonk, N.Y.). "You'd come back the next day and pick up the report, and then you sit down with the agent and go through the report and see what areas that you wanted to rebalance in your portfolio."
Grid computing has made it possible for customers to perform that same detailed analysis over the Web - in seconds. That's an important way for the company to differentiate itself from competitors. "Customers now view Charles Schwab as a high-value service instead of a discount brokerage house," says Chiu.
Here's how they did it: First, IBM adapted Schwab's portfolio analysis algorithms to take advantage of parallel processing. Then, Schwab's primary data center was equipped with grid capabilities using IBM WebSphere. As a result, the portfolio analysis tools and other customer-facing applications were able to use spare capacity on the firm's transactional systems - without getting in the way during peak trading times. "The infrastructure can give priority to the online-trading transactions that generate revenues directly, versus the planning types of applications," says Chiu.