GRID OS COMES OF AGE: A TALK WITH ANDREW GRIMSHAW

October 13, 2000

by Alan Beck, editor-in-chief

San Diego, CALIF. — HPCwire’s editor-in-chief Alan Beck recently interviewed Andrew Grimshaw, president of Applied Metacomputing, about Legion, the firm’s flagship software:

Q: What is Applied MetaComputing all about?

A: Applied Meta is focused on providing the best and most comprehensive Grid System software. Legion, our Grid OS, gives users and application developers the ability to fully and easily utilize a vast array of networked resources without the need to deal with or understand the growing complexities of the underlying networked world.

Q: How do you define a Grid System?

A: A true Grid System is a complete programming environment represented by a fully integrated architecture that allows working relationships to exist between heterogeneous resources, no matter what the underlying platform, language, or location.

What’s really important to the definition here is the fully integrated aspect, meaning that the file system is integrated with the scheduling system which is integrated with binary management and process management, etc. etc. and all are integrated with the underlying security model. This does not happen in a “sum of services” architecture. A true Grid system also provides at least four transparencies to users, location, replication, migration, and failure transparency. In other words when I am “talking” to a distributed resource (such as a file or running simulation) I do not necessarily know where it is, whether it migrates from California to Virginia while I am talking to it, or whether there is one copy of the object or several; further, if the resource fails it is transparently restarted as necessary. By providing such high levels of transparency a true Grid System simplifies the task of both using grid resources and developing applications for the grid.

Consequently, by plugging into a true Grid System, no matter where you are or what device you are using, you can access your programs, files, and needed computing power seamlessly, securely, and transparently.

Q: What is the history of the Legion software?.

A: Legion was first developed at the University of Virginia with NSF, DOE, DOD, and NASA support and in collaboration with NPACI and NAVO MSRC. In production use since its release at SC97, Legion is currently running at sites around the globe.

Q: Who is currently using Legion?

A: There are many users of Legion. Applied Meta has licensed Legion to a number of Fortune 500 companies as well as research institutions around the globe. Here is just a small sampling of users: Boeing, The Scripps Research Institute, San Diego Supercomputer Center, Caltech (CACR), NCSA, Stanford University, etc, etc.

Q: How do you compare Legion to other offerings in the marketplace?

A: Legion is the only commercially available, professionally supported, grid platform. Other “gridlike” products out there handle only one or two of the many features that Legion fully integrates. Legion runs on all major operating systems and platforms giving users, organizations, and application developers the ability to fully capitalize on the vast array of networked resources without the need to deal with or understand the complexities of the underlying networked world. About the only software that approaches Legion in its features and functionality is Globus and Globus is really a toolkit of individual components rather than a compete infrastructure.

Q: Can you expand on that high-level comparison to Globus? In more detail, how does Globus compare to Legion?

A: Good question. While Legion and Globus are the two longest running grid projects in the World, each represents a fundamentally different philosophy in their goals and implementation. Whereas Legion was designed with the goal of connecting all sorts of devices within a common framework, Globus has been much more focused on connecting together supercomputers utilizing a toolkit approach comprised of individual modules that programmers need to self-integrate. Such differences are significant and we believe a few of the many reasons why Globus is still very much a research project whereas Applied MetaComputing has successfully moved Legion out of the labs and into industry.

Q:There has been a lot of talk recently about Distributed Computing with companies such as United Devices, Parabon, and others. Any comments?

A: To begin, I want to stress that Legion provides our users with a revolutionary infrastructure for harnessing any form of networked resources – not just idle CPU’s. As such, our clients are able to tap into distributed databases, applications, and storage as well as processing power. Legion of course allows this to happen regardless of platform, language, or location. We also fully support legacy codes from Fortran to Java.

In comparison to others in the CPU harnessing field, Applied Meta provides technology solutions that are robust time-tested and serve a number of market spaces. Our technology has the benefit of over 7 years of development, testing, and use in real high-performance, high-demand environments around the globe.

Our software is installed at major computing centers and corporations around the globe and is running on almost every HW/SW platform combination imaginable – from NT boxes to Cray supercomputers. About the only OS we don’t support right now is AS400 and the Macintosh. Of course, since Legion was designed to port easily should a customer have a need for AS400 support we could easily hand over the implementation in short order.

Q: You mentioned legacy code support. Can you elaborate?

A: Sure. Legion was designed with full legacy code support in mind because unlike others in this area we recognized that users want solutions to problems not a requirement to rewrite their codes. Indeed, sometimes source is not even available. As such, users can run legacy codes within a Legion environment immediately – no rewriting or recompiling.

Q: What about security? How important is security in a distributed computing environment?

A: Great question. Security is critically important and as such was designed and integrated into Legion from the beginning. Applied Meta is very proud of our security system – designed by Bill Wulf (current President of the National Academy of Engineers) – and it is frequently cited as a real strong point in comparison to any other system out there. Certainly to the best of our knowledge, none of our competitors are certified to run at high security installations such as those maintained by the Defense Department. Legion runs at a number of DoD sites on a regular basis.

Q: How does the cost of Legion compare to the cost of a supercomputer and centralized storage devices?

A: While I can not disclose specific pricing I can tell you that depending on individual situations our customers can expect to realize cost savings in excess of 70% over their current total cost of ownership costs.

For more information, see http://www.appliedmeta.com/

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