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I know that you can set up multiple virtual machines per physical computer. I'm wondering if it's possible to make multiple physical computers behave as one logical unit?

Fundamentally the way I imagine it working is that you can throw 10 computers into a facility one day. You've got one client that requires the equivalent of two computers worth, and 100 others that eat up the remaining 8. As demands change you're just reallocating logical resources, maybe the 2 computer client now requires a third physical system. You just add it to the cloud, and don't worry about sharding the database, or migrating data over to a new server.

Can it work this way?

If yes, why would anyone ever do things like partition their database servers anymore? Just add more computing resources. You scale horizontally with the hardware, but your server appears to scale vertically. There's no need to modify your application's infrastructure to support multiple databases etc.

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Yes, tying multiple physical computers together into one logical computers does work. This is the basic premise behind clustered, grid or shard computing. The main advantage is load balancing. You can parse work off from physical CPUs that are heavily loaded to the ones that are lightly loaded. Perhaps the ultimate example of this is Google.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_platform

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cluster_(computing)

As for database partitioning. This is as much about overcoming the hard drive speed/throughput bottleneck than the CPU performance throughput by splitting off multiple partitions to multiple physical drives. Usually for major database environments, a combination of clustering and partitioning is used.

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