Microsoft Brings .Net to Grid Computing

Late last month, Sun Microsystems Inc. and IBM announced initiatives to meld grid computing technology with their Web services. Now Microsoft Corp. has joined the ranks of major vendors supporting grid computing as the next step toward delivering Web serv

Once the domain of scientists and academics, major vendors are beginning to view grid computing as a potentially integral part of their Web services strategy.

Late last month, Sun Microsystems Inc. and IBM announced initiatives to meld grid computing technology with their Web services.

Now Microsoft Corp. has joined the ranks of major vendors supporting grid computing as the next step toward delivering Web services, particularly via its .Net architecture.

This month, Microsoft is expected to host a team of academics visiting its headquarters in Redmond, Wash., to review the companys progress in developing a grid computing scheme to support .Net, said Todd Needham, manager of external research projects for Microsoft.

Needham said Microsoft contributed $1 million to research in grid computing and to the Globus Project, which is targeted at creating a platform for sharing applications and computing resources over the Internet. The Globus Project is based at the U.S. Department of Energys Argonne National Laboratory, in Argonne, Ill., and the University of Southern Californias Information Sciences Institute, in Marina del Ray. It also involves other academic institutions.

Grid computing is the use of a host, or grid, of computers together to gain the maximum computing power of all the machines collectively.

Microsofts donations to the Globus Project are aimed at bringing the benefits of grid computing to Web services, particularly as it relates to .Net, the desktop and Intel Corp.-based servers.

Globus and IBM last month announced the OGSA (Open Grid Services Architecture), a set of specifications that combine the benefits of grid computing and Web services. At the same time, Sun said it was integrating its software platforms for grid computing and Web services.

"Microsoft and IBM have a lot of servers today that we want to start exposing as Web services," such as Microsofts BizTalk and many others, Needham said. The OGSA specification helps bring that closer to reality in a grid-based environment, he said.

"We look at grid as a deployment architecture," said Jim Bole, vice president of engineering at Infravio Inc., a Web services management company in Redwood City, Calif. "Once you take advantage of resources on an ad hoc basis, like you do with Web services, you need manageability even more. We see companies moving from prepackaged applications to a services orientation. They could use [peer-to-peer], or they could go all the way to grid."

"We became convinced that the technology we developed was applicable to a much broader range of applications than just scientific applications," said Carl Kesselman, director of USCs ISI. "At that time, IBM and some other companies had the same realization. And they looked at how we could adapt the work that we were doing to work in a wider range of applications. And hence this announcement of the Open Grid Services Architecture—attempting to look at the intersection of so-called grid technology and Web services."

Kesselman said the Globus group is interested in working with Microsoft because many of its potential users are using Windows-based platforms. Also, "with their .Net initiative or product, Microsoft is a major player in the Web services environment, and if were to have an impact on the technology and see the technology weve developed make it into wide-scale use, having Microsoft engaged in that early is important," he said.

"The thought that weve had for a while is that if you give your process service interfaces, so you can just call them with XML, it is a lot easier to be able to distribute tasks across a matrix of computers," said Simon Phipps, chief Java evangelist with Sun, in Palo Alto, Calif. "We anticipate using a grid methodology will be able to deliver very high-performance Web service farms as part of our products."

Sun and IBM said they expect to see products combining grid computing with Web services on the market soon. Michael Nelson, director of Internet technology and strategy for IBM, in Armonk, N.Y., said the companys goal is "to have beta products out this year," with production software available next year.

Suns Phipps said, "Well begin to see that grid approach to delivering Web services actually coming up pretty soon because its going to be a basic feature of the way an operating system like Solaris or Linux is able to support Web services."

Phipps predicted early adopters will crop up in the third quarter. But Frank Moss, CEO of Web services products provider Bowstreet Inc., does not expect to see grid-based Web services applications becoming mainstream in the next five years.

"I think grid computing is going to find its application early on in applications like pharmaceuticals and bio-medicine—computationally intensive areas where there are many different kinds of databases that need to be integrated and huge complex computational problems," said Moss, in Portsmouth, N.H.