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IBM leads new grid computing initiative

IBM leads new grid computing initiative

IBM, Microsoft, Platform Computing, Entropia and Avaki are all backing a set of specifications they hope will drive...

grid computing into the commercial world by enabling the development of Web Services applications that can take advantage of the distributed computing environment that grid offers.

The specifications speak the language of Web services -- SOAP, XML, WSDL and UDDI -- and were introduced at the Global Grid Forum in Toronto. Collectively known as the Open Grid Services Architecture (OGSA), the specifications can be used by developers to write applications that will work in conjunction with the Globus toolkit, an open source development that implements grid computing on computer networks.

Although the Globus project has driven the development of grid computing lately, OGSA has been designed so that it can be implemented on other grid computing frameworks as well. IBM describes it as the entry point for commercial grid computing. None of the firms were able to address IP, licensing and royalty issues, if indeed any exist, but an integrated OGSA/Globus toolkit will carry the same GNU open source license as previous versions of the toolkit.

Context: The promise of grid computing is that users will potentially enjoy huge cost and efficiency savings, as it will enable them to integrate applications and share data and processing power between different computers and networks.

IBM, which co-wrote OGSA, is trying to stake out an early lead in grid technology, as well as in its commercialization and marketing. Having dropped the ball on Linux in its early days when it was still a rogue operating system, IBM doesn't want to make the same mistake with grid computing, now that its value opportunity is becoming clear with the advent of Web services. Indeed, Irving Wladawsky-Berger, VP of strategy and technology at IBM server group, had championed Linux at Big Blue and is now at the helm of its grid computing effort.

Technology: The Globus toolkit is a set of software tools for building computational grids and grid-based applications. In it are tools and libraries addressing such areas as security, information infrastructure, resource and data management, communication, fault detection and portability. It's an open source effort, and vendors porting it to their own platforms feed patches back to the open source base.

IBM Academy member Mark Cathart, who leads the server group's grid and eLiza teams, says the next step is to integrate all the elements from the operating system through Globus toolkit, an OGSA implementation and then an application server. He says later this summer IBM hopes to beta test a version of WebSphere that can plug into this architecture.

In a commercial implementation, the separate components would ideally be invisible to the user, and certainly IBM plans to ship a single toolkit incorporating all these components later in the year, including a version for Linux. To test the waters, IBM has previously made a version of the Globus toolkit available for AIX.

Cathcart says exactly how grid access will be implemented and packaged in different products has yet to be finalized -- IBM is working with several prototype models.

Cathcart envisages other IBM technologies, including eLiza self-management and healing software and StorageTank storage virtualization software, will also be able to plug into its grid architecture in the future.

Competition: Sun isn't among the list of supporters named in the OGSA announcement. The company sees OGSA primarily as a vehicle to integrate enterprise grids already created within companies to a wider network. Sun bought Gridware to kick-start its grid computing project two years ago and has recently announced a plan to integrate its Sun One software stack and Sun Grid Engine through its iPlanet portal server. Sun already counts 500 users of the Grid Engine. It says customers will want to use JavaBeans to integrate Web application services.

Director of grid computing Wolfgang Gench says Sun isn't under pressure to start from scratch like other grid hopefuls because it already has a base of users with grid architectures. It says it will participate in OGSA development, but sees it as a longer-term standards development effort, noting that most such efforts are usually protracted. That's why Sun will focus on developing its existing grid technology for use within companies before addressing the wider issue of connecting 'islands' of grids.

Conclusion: By rooting its commitment to a grid architecture and Globus toolkit firmly in the world of open source and Linux, IBM makes it hard for Microsoft and Sun to promote alternative versions that rely on their respective proprietary operating systems but purport to work across platforms. Indeed, it's difficult to see how Microsoft is going to make a business out of grid and Web services at all, given its total aversion to open source technology. It's already talking about the opportunity as an ecosystem in which Microsoft applications can flourish.

While IBM is seeking to capture the high technology ground, promoting the vision of a worldwide network of processors working together, Sun is already taking care of business with an intra-enterprise approach focused on using Java as the key enabling tool -- that way it gets to sell more servers. IBM has yet to demonstrate how it will 'monetize' grid computing to the same extent as Sun, but it has a richer long-term vision.

It's still early on in grid computing, and market dynamics have yet to be established. Grid computing isn't yet mainstream; instead, it surfaces every few months as a reminder of what's around the corner. The winners and losers have yet to be decided.

It would be unfair to characterize IBM and Sun as squaring off against each other in anything but pure PR terms yet, but we sense grid will further highlight the distinction between Microsoft's and Sun's single-platform approach and IBM's increasingly heterogeneous play.

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