Grid Computing Takes the Linux Route

By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2005-02-10

Grid Computing Takes the Linux Route

Mondays launch of the Globus Consortium by HP, Intel, IBM and Sun Microsystems represented the second body devoted to the commercialization of grid to come into being in the past year, after the Enterprise Grid Alliance launched in April.

Why do we need yet another grid outfit? Besides the EGA, we already have the Globus Alliance, as well as a smattering of bodies that work on grid standards, including the Global Grid Forum, OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) and the World Wide Web Consortium.

The Globus Consortium, however, is specifically devoted to advancing open-source implementation of grid standards as the world of grid opens up to commercial use. The group is focused on advancing the Globus Toolkit, an open standards building block for enterprise-level grid implementations that came out of the Globus Alliance, an open-source-focused organization at Argonne National Labs.

Ian Foster, a consortium board member who led the original team that developed the tool kit, compares Globus Consortium to the Open Source Development Labs in which Linus Torvalds works, where the goal is to take Linux and make it ready for enterprise use.

Grid computing, of course, has been around for years. But with the launch of products such as Oracles Database 10g, interest in using it in nonacademic settings has escalated. After all, as Peter ffoulkes, Suns director of marketing for high-performance and technical computing, said to me recently, business computing has woken up.

Nowadays, enterprises are looking at the money theyve poured into computing resources and are saying, "Hey, wait a minute, were getting 10 percent utilization out of our computing systems, and our analysts are getting up to 90 percent utilization," ffoulkes said. Who wouldnt want a piece of that? Grid, essentially an evolution of distributed computing, promises pooled resources that, ideally, will bring computing power into the realm of utility resources, much like electricity, and deliver those much-desired utilization rates.

But plugging grid into the enterprise is going to be a different animal than using it for modeling weather patterns or mapping the human genome. A number of things happen when grid moves to an enterprise setting. For example, code must be embedded into enterprise systems, where there are a multitude of interfaces to deal with. Security, identity management and enterprise work roles will all undoubtedly have different characteristics that will stress code in different ways, Foster remarked in a recent conversation.

Next Page: End users push for open grids.

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The message coming from end users, Foster says, is that, as that work gets done, they want to see grid advance in an open manner, via open-source standards, as opposed to being tied to any particular vendors offerings, as is the case with some of todays leading grid vendors.

"I think there are people realizing theres a need to define appropriate protocols so these systems can interoperate and people dont have to deploy a single platform across the enterprise if they dont want to," Foster said. "Globus can be a facilitator of that."

Nick Gall, senior vice president of Meta Group, told me that we can think of the Globus Consortium as the Open Source Development Labs of grid computing, and we can think of the new company, created by Steve Tuecke, who will be Univas CEO; Carl Kesselman; and Rich Miller—Univa—as the Red Hat.

"Univa thinks of itself as a hybrid—a Red Hat distribution of the open-source Globus tool kit, but professionalized, integrated, all the things Red Hat does to Linux and GNU to productize it and package it," Gall said. "They want to do that with the Globus Toolkit."

If the Globus Consortium is the OSDL and Univa is the Red Hat, where does EGA fit into the commercialization of grid? Suns ffoulkes is the chair of the marketing steering committee for that body. He told me the EGAs goal is to be a "body that is an advocate for the needs of the commercial enterprise computing user and to accelerate the process by which grid technologies become usable by the commercial, for-profit enterprise customer."

"Were focused on getting grid beyond the scientific realm and into commercial computing," he said.

Its still a young organization, so one of the EGAs first jobs has been to get the message out, ffoulkes said, making sure all the parties know what needs to be done and why its important. The EGA is also trying to get end-user customers on board as it tries to address the needs of the community, not just the needs of vendors.

The EGA has also begun to set up technical working groups to address specific needs in the marketplace, such as a common way of communicating. It has also established various working groups, including those devoted to component provisioning, data provisioning, security and utility accounting.

Where will the work coming from all these bodies lead us? Picture this typical nonprofit, scientific grid implementation: A Sun customer working in the high-performance domain of oceanographic and atmospheric modeling takes in data on a planetary scale from thousands of sensors, so they can run computer simulations to model whats happening across the planet. Results can be fed to, for example, farmers, who can make decisions on what crops to plant when.

Take that work, substitute Wal-Mart and data flowing from RFID tags, with thousands and thousands of sensors collecting data on where items are and whos buying what. Its closely aligned with the same scale of data and problems inherent to the academic domain, ffoulkes said—just do a cut and paste, change the tags, and it all makes sense.

Its a lofty end goal, and Im eager to see how it develops with the open-source model thats being advocated by the newly arisen Globus Consortium.

Editors Note: This column was updated to remove a reference to DataSynapse and other companies products relying on proprietary standards. DataSynapses GridServer, for one, is standards-based, relying on Web services standards including SOAP and WSDL without reference to proprietary types or operations.

Write to me at Associate Editor Lisa Vaas has written about enterprise applications since 1997.

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