Is IBM the Grid King in Financial Services?

Big Blue blew away closest competitor Oracle in a recent survey on financial institutions' favorite grid provider. But the confusing, conflicting definitions of what constitutes "grid" make the comparison one of apples to oranges, experts say.

Oracle Database 10g be damned—IBM has been doing grid for longer than Oracle, better than Oracle and for cheaper than Oracle, its database executives want us to know.

New features in the recently released DB2 Universal Database 8.2 deliver "a very simple way to set up a high-availability failover environment with a much more cost-effective value proposition than our closest competitor: up to 60 percent savings in some cases," Bob Picciano, IBM vice president of database technology, said in a recent interview with eWEEK.com.

But is IBM capturing the hearts and minds of grid customers outside of academic institutions and huge research and development labs, or is Oracles 10g message gaining ground?

Picciano says yes, IBM most certainly can compete, pointing to proof in the form of the recently released 2004 rankings by Waters magazine, a financial publication whose readers selected IBM as their No. 1 choice for a grid management provider.

IBM snagged 48.4 percent of the vote; thats double the ranking of second-place Oracle, which was selected by 22.2 percent of the 423 respondents.

"While many corporate technology vendors have yet to incorporate grid technology into their solutions, IBM has already created offerings for a number of vertical industries, including the financial services industry," Waters editors wrote.

Some agree. Dan Kaberon, director of computer resource management at Hewitt Associates LLC, refers to the two projects hes running on IBM and DataSynapse Inc. grid technology as "the 2003 miracle" and "the 2004 miracle."

Hewitt, which is a global human resources outsourcing and consulting firm that delivers human capital management services including payroll, is currently running two applications on grid. Both were typical grid candidates: compute-intensive programs that sucked up a lot of mainframe horsepower and that were, consequently, expensive to run.

In 2003, Hewitt tackled a mainframe application that calculated pension benefits. Hewitt services benefits administration for large employers. External news events cause great spikes in demand for data—think of mergers and acquisitions, wars and natural disasters and how they influence peoples decisions to check their pension benefits or to request information on when they might retire. Because of such unpredictable flux in resource demand, planning horsepower was very difficult, Kaberon said.

Hewitt converted the pension application to run on Intel Corp. blade servers running Linux. With a "tremendous amount of help" from IBMs Center for Transaction Processing, Hewitt hooked up the blade servers to run in conjunction with the mainframe, thus offloading compute-intensive work from the expensive-to-run mainframe and onto the cheaper servers.

Next Page: Grid miracles.