BT Builds Grid Strategy

BT will start with Unix servers and disaster recovery for grid-computing services

June 26, 2004

3 Min Read
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BT Group plc (NYSE: BTY; London: BTA) gave a peek into its grid computing plans at this weeks Supercomm event in Chicago, at a time when telecom firms are cautiously watching each other to see who will be the first to offer commercial grid-based services to users.

The BT board approved the grid strategy earlier this year, according to Frank Falcon, BT’s ICT portfolio manager, and the telecom firm is now hoping to be one of the first to market with large-scale, grid-based utility computing. But building an infrastructure on this scale is easier said than done (see Telecom Firms Grappling With the Grid).

One of the biggest challenges faced by telecom firms is a lack of effective business models, with utility computing requiring the development of complex, highly scalable IT infrastructure. Customers will then use the telecom firms’ data center resources on an ad-hoc, but extremely CPU-intensive basis. With grid computing linking IT resources across an organization, developing a business system around the infrastructure and figuring out how to make money on it is a real challenge.

So, what is BT doing about this? Falcon says, “We have a number of ‘threads’ running to make sure that we can create secure business models.”

These threads are actually 10 different grid-specific business models. Knowledge, however, is power in the telecom industry and Falcon was only willing to reveal the title of one of these – disaster recovery.As far as the impact on BT’s back-end systems, Falcon was likewise unwilling to give too much away, although he did confirm that the company’s small to medium-sized Unix servers will initially be the workhorses powering the grid infrastructure.

Unix servers, in contrast to IBM mainframes, tend to have a large number of unused CPU cycles at any given time. This is ideal for grid-based computing, which requires extremely high usage, often for short periods.

BT could also be well positioned to deliver grid services, thanks to other projects that it is currently working on, according to Falcon. Last year, the UK’s National Health Service awarded BT a contract worth around $2.9 billion to overhaul the service’s IT infrastructure. This involves the creation of something called the 'data spine,' a central repository of data on the 60 million people living in the UK.

Because of the scale of the project, it is likely that BT will need to bring together its distributed IT resources to support the data spine. Not surprisingly, the company is considering using a grid to provide the IT backbone of the project. Falcon says that this could even form the basis for developing other grid-based services.

So, how long will it be before BT is offering commercial grid-based services? Falcon estimates that it could be any time “between 2005 and 2008.”Although this is a very broad window, it reflects the challenge many telecom firms face when building grids. Much of the software and hardware on the market today is not regarded robust enough to support grid-based applications.

Given this factor, Steve Crumb, executive director of the Global Grid Forum, feels that BT’s time frame is quite realistic. He says, “It will be that long before we have stable, standards-based offerings that allow the level of robustness that commercial applications require.”

— James Rogers, Site Editor, Next-gen Data Center Forum

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