Oracle, HP, Intel and Sun start YAGCSB*
*Yet Another Grid Computing Standards Body
Griddle me this. Is there really a need for another grid computing-focused organisation?
Some 20 companies think the answer is 'yes', with a number of the largest IT players coming together this week to form the Enterprise Grid Alliance (EGA). The new consortium, including Oracle, HP, Intel, EMC and Sun, is the latest body to try and capitalise on technology that links groups of servers, storage systems and software together to process common tasks. But even with the group's impressive backing, a number of industry observers have charged that enough work is already going on with various grid groups and that adding a new body will only dilute investments in the promising technology.
"I'm just not clear why we need yet another consortium defining grid standards or promoting grid adoption in vague ways," Jonathan Eunice, an analyst at Illuminata, told The Register. "It reminds me of BIC, another group that seemed principally to associate its members with the glow of a promising, next-generation technology - regardless of their real work-a-day involvement with the new approach. That was e-commerce, this is grid, but beyond that, the script seems the same."
For some time now, companies such as IBM, HP (especially Compaq) and Sun have backed the work done by the Globus Alliance - another grid standards body. All of these companies make use of the Globus Toolkit in their various grid computing offerings to help spread software jobs across numerous servers and storage systems. Most of the early users of Globus have come from the scientific community with research institutions harnessing massive amounts of compute power for complex tasks.
New focus, honest
The founders of the EGA say the time has come to focus on moving grid computing into the data centers of corporate customers as well. Instead of concentrating on DNA sequencing, for example, the 20 vendors want customers to us grid computing for CRM, ERP and financial applications.
The EGA started as the brainchild of Oracle and appears to have gained fairly wide acceptance from major industry players. A full list of the backers is available here. The only problem is that two key players - and Globus backers - IBM and Microsoft have yet to join the EGA party.
"Yes, we've been talking with IBM. Yes, we've been talking to Microsoft. Yes, we've been talking to SAP," Donald Deutsch, president of the EGA, said during a conference call with reporters. "We've encouraged all of them to come to the table."
We're pleased that discussions have been held, but, at present, neither Microsoft nor IBM will commit to joining the new group.
Along with being backers of Globus, Microsoft, IBM, HP, Intel, Sun and Oracle also back the Global Grid Forum (GCF). This group issued a fairly terse statement on the formation of the EGA.
"As a global forum, GGF has the representation, established venues, and processes in place to address a comprehensive set of issues including standards and lessons learned in deployment. Enterprise Grid Alliance has elected to establish a separate organisation to tackle issues regarding grid deployment in the enterprise. Now that EGA has been formally announced, GGF is having discussions with EGA to determine how to best collaborate in the best interest of the Grid community, in both industry and research sectors."
GCF went on to pledge to work with EGA "to understand their objectives and plans". You have to wonder how hard this will be since both groups have almost identical memberships and work on almost identical projects. Can you blame Microsoft and IBM from being hesitant to spend money discussing things with themselves?
But what about the argument that grid computing needs to be pushed out of the research sphere and into the enterprise?
"Globus and GGF definitely started in the technical and scientific computing space, but there's nothing about the current grid toolkit or OGSA (open grid services architecture, ie merger of Grid and Web Servcies) that is specific to high performance technical computing (HPC)," Illuminata's Eunice said.
In fact, if you believe the hype from HP, IBM and Sun, commercial grids are being deployed every day - with ease - incredible ease.
For its part, Sun plans to continue work with Globus but also hopes the EGA can develop betters ways for complex software packages to work together. Sun, and others, want developing EGA specifications to tie in with other specs developed the SNIA (Storage Networking Industry Association) and the APIs of fledging software makers in the virtualization market. In this context, the EGA probably makes the most sense.
The vendors appear to be making an early move to try and stop the fragmentation that has occurred in the past with server and storage software. The industry is just now reaching a point where it can agree on a wide range of APIs for managing hardware. This meeting of the minds comes as a new class of virtualization software is rolling out that blurs the line between traditional server or storage tasks.
The EGA could well be trying to make sure grid computing and virtualisation software can mature alongside each other.
But then again, this could be more of a marketing effort than anything else.
"As good as IBM and other companies have been at promoting grid computing, something with more of an enterprise brand may be a good thing for enterprise customers," Shahin Khan, VP of high performance and technical computing at Sun, told El Reg. "The packaging aspect, as superficial as it sounds, can be important."
Khan, however, has high hopes that the EGA can come up with some concrete, standard APIs for improving grid computing.
Give grid a go
But, in total, this new effort looks like a clear way for vendors to try and tempt enterprise customers to give grid computing a try. The technology has been talked about for years and enjoyed only limited adoption with big business. If you're Oracle rolling out a new database - 10g - with the grid brand all over it, you need to drum up a bit more excitement around the technology.
The only problem with the strategy is that the marketing fluff may well get in the way of an already in progress maturing grid market.
"I don't want to deride anyone's genuine efforts to make progress, but neither do I want to see a proliferation of consortia, associations, and alliances needlessly competing for funds and attention," Eunice said.
The EGA promises to prove its worth in the next 12-18 months by rolling out interoperability tests for grid computing products and a plan for bringing Web services to the grid. After that, the group will look at more complex tasks such as running grid computing projects across multiple data centers.
The organization is open to vendors and customers - for a small fee. $50,000 will buy a top sponsorship and a prime place in the feedback loop, $15,000 gets a little bit less and $5,000 lets your company display a banner ad that confirms you know what grid computing means.
The EGA has pledged to release all of its work under royalty free licenses. ®