Enterprises Still Not Sold on Grid

Grid computing is commonplace on colleges, but commercial deployments are rare

August 17, 2006

4 Min Read
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Despite plenty of vendor hype, it appears that most enterprises are still to be won over by the concept of grid computing, citing cost and service level uncertainty as key concerns. (See IBM Debuts Grid, IBM Brings Autonomics to Grids, Sun Grid Goes Live, and Sun Intros Grid Storage.)

Last week, for example, IBM cranked up its own grid strategy, doubling the capacity of the SURAgrid research initiative to 10 trillion calculations per second by deploying its System p servers at college campuses across the U.S. (See IBM Supercharges Grid.) Some 27 universities are now involved in the project, which harnesses their compute power for storm modeling and genome sequencing.

"This is a testbed for much broader, wider adoption of grid across commercial enterprises," says Ken King, vice president of grid computing at IBM. "This is bleeding edge from the perspective of connecting so many different organizations together in an open standards model."

Specifically, SURAgrid is using open source middleware from industry group Globus to knit the disparate sites together and share data and applications across the grid. (See Vendors Form Globus Consortium, Grid Startup Hits the Source, and Grid Goes Open Source.)

King admits that grids are still typically the preserve of the research sector, although he predicts that more and more businesses will look to the technology, particularly in data-intensive industries such as financial services and manufacturing. "Having example references of how it has been adopted in the university space makes it easier to drive adoption in the commercial sector," he says.But Roy Rabey, IT manager at gaming company Ensemble Studios, which developed the Age of Empires series, is still not convinced. The exec told Byte and Switch that, for him, cost remains a major obstacle to deploying a grid. "It seems that, right now, you are paying a premium to get into that environment," he says. "The cost of conventional computing is much less than grid."

Additionally Rabey warns that it could be difficult to set service levels for multiple enterprise applications running across a complex grid infrastructure. "It's still real scary. It seems that the whole environment hasn't gelled yet," he adds.

Even one grid advocate admits that this is an issue. "It's hard for the business owner to anticipate and understand the appropriate SLAs in a grid environment," explains an IT manager at a North Carolina-based financial services firm, who asked not to be named.

The exec, however, told Byte and Switch that his firm, which uses a grid for financial pricing and risk modeling, tackled this problem by educating individual IT and business staff about the service levels they should expect from their grid.

The IT manager also believes that grid computing will soon find its way into other industries that depend on complex financial calculations, such as healthcare and insurance.At least one IT manager in the insurance sector, however, is skeptical about grid computing, whether deployed within his own infrastructure, or accessed remotely via the Internet. "Not in the foreseeable future -- we don't have massive CPU requirements like that," says Randall Vogsland, infrastructure supervisor at the Minneapolis-based law firm Bowman and Brooke, which currently uses 42 IBM xSeries 335 and 336 servers and a 16 Tbyte SAN. (See Law Firm Ditches NAS, Saves Cash.) "Grid computing far outweighs anything that we have to do here."

Nonetheless, there are some examples of firms deploying grids, such as J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., which replaced a supercomputer with a 4,000-processor grid built from low-end servers. (See JP Morgan Goes Grid.) Elsewhere, Daimler Chrysler has deployed a grid for its crash testing. (See Daimler Maps Grid Savings.)

King believes that grid computing is gaining momentum, adding that IBM has been working with Microsoft around the competing WSDM and WSM Web services management standards. (See Users Send SOA SOS.) "I think that over the next two to five years you're going to see a lot of things happen," he says. "You're going to see a lot more standards falling into place [and] you're going to see a lot of integration of the grid-based technologies into core middleware and operating systems."

James Rogers, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)

  • Sun Microsystems Inc.

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