GRIDtoday editor Derrick Harris recently spoke with GridXpert CEO Sven Lung about his up and coming company. GridXpert is based in France, and Lung discusses, among other topics, the differences in Grid adoption between European companies and those based in the United States.
GRIDtoday: First of all, Sven, can you give a brief personal history and tell me how you ended up as CEO of GridXpert?
SVEN LUNG: I have entrepreneurial and investing experience. My first experience as an investor was in 1996 when I became one of the first investors in Finance Net which became BOURSORAMA in 1998, and when I co-founded the Incubator Republic Alley in July 1999.
I founded my first company in 1996, the Southern Subsidiary of INTERSHOP. In parallel in 1998, I co-founded Imediation, where I held the position of VP International and launched the U.S. subsidiary which grew to 100 employees. In 2001, I joined ETF Group, an entrepreneurial VC based in France and Switzerland; and then in 2002, I finally co-founded GridXpert.
Gt: It has been said that Grid computing generally means as many different things as there are people in the room. How would you define it?
LUNG: I will define Grid as a method and set of technologies to virtualize the underlying compute and storage infrastructure: to allow this, Grid includes features to locate, manage and monitor disparate compute and storage resources and features to provide a virtual access to these resources and the required application and software components in a way which optimizes the usage of these resources for the users considered globally.
Gt: In a nutshell, what services does GridXpert provide? What makes it a better choice than its competitors?
LUNG: GridXpert provides the product suite GX Synergy we categorize as a “service Grid”: it allows to modelize the extended IT infrastructure as Grid services for the end users — a Grid service being a virtual access to compute and storage resources — and to optimally answers to end users requests by providing the appropriate Grid services at the considered time and for the required capacity. GX Synergy provides the complete process to declare Grid services and to map them on the IT infrastructure, to locate the appropriate Grid services for end user requests and to manage the requests, to continuously analyze progress and to adapt to changes.
From the beginning, we focus on a solution which optimizes end user requests on the IT infrastructure considering that an end user must have access to the IT assets of the company in a productive way. So, GX Synergy is a solution which tends, on one hand, to optimize the end user work by simplifying as much as possible the IT interface and to make the end user concentrate on his applicative tasks and on the other hand to consider the IT infrastructure as a whole which must optimally respond to the end user demands along the time: for this we have introduced dynamic meta-scheduling and virtual data spaces features to be able to adjust the view of the IT infrastructure to the demand.
Gt: You've been quoted as saying, “GridXpert goes beyond technology and concentrates on making people more productive.” Can you elaborate on the “people” aspect of this statement?
LUNG: As previously said, GX Synergy intends to provide to users the best resources at the required time. This is done according to an innovative process where projects (through their project manager) shop for Grid services according to technical/capacity and economical parameters; members of projects have then accessed to the Grid services adapted to their needs; when users submit a task, from this set of Grid services, the dynamic meta-scheduler and data spaces manager provide the appropriate Grid services to solve the task taken into account the constraints of time, robustness and security of the users.
Gt: What is the European marketplace like for a Grid solutions company? What kind of rate of adoption do you see for enterprise Grids in Europe?
LUNG: We see a fast maturation of the European marketplace regarding Grid-based initiatives in the industry sector. Large industrial players in automotive, aerospace, electronics, energy or biopharma are faced with an exponential need for additional computing power driven by simulation. They are actively considering Grid-based architectures as a way to rationalize Research and Engineering IT, so it can meet the demand challenges and scale up cost-effectively. Advanced organizations realize that technology is now mature enough to allow a “make or buy” decision. In the past, they had to build “hard-wired” pseudo service-based architectures, which are hard and expensive to maintain (and not core-business).
Innovators have piloted in 2004 and are now proceeding to full deployment. Early adopters have scoped technology, and are now budgeting pilot deployments in the first half of 2005, with budget lines for full deployment in the second part of the year.
Gt: Do you see differences in Grid adoption between European and U.S. companies? If so, what are they?
LUNG: Clearly the U.S. lead the way in the financial sector, where the core value proposition is straight application acceleration. We see a much more balanced activity in the industrial sector, where evaluation cycles tend to be more exhaustive, touching a number of infrastructure issues. Large vendors and professional services organizations show a majority of Use Cases coming out of Europe. Traditionally, Europeans industrialists tend to take a broader view on things, having to deal with a high level of sophistication in the extended enterprise models, due to the complex structure of markets and partnerships.
Gt: Can you speak a little about the recent multi-site Grid solution you deployed for Arcelor Flat Carbon Steel?
LUNG: To take a world leader position in the steel industry, Aceralia, Arbed, and Usinor gathered into a unique enterprise: Arcelor.
Bringing together 11 different research centers induces heterogeneous resources and capacities, redundancies, under-utilized resources and bottlenecks on some systems or networks. Therefore, the objective was to rationalize the resources of the R&D centers within the new framework of their geographical and functional organization:
- federate available resources.
- optimize & improve resources utilization.
- rationalize software licenses use.
- Thanks to Grid infrastructure, global computing capacity improved up to 35 percent, avoiding bottlenecks and enabling Arcelor to face peaks of loads and improve researchers' productivity.
- Users have a single view of all available IT resources, (and don't have to care about their geographic location or their management).
- IT resources utilization improves, and is much more efficient and optimized. Double computing are avoided.
- Scientific IT costs decreased by more than 20 percent using a Grid.
But in my opinion, Christian Standaert, the VP Innovation R&D for Arcelor FCS, better describes the overall benefit when he says: “Innovation for Arcelor FCS concerns not only the products and services we offer our clients, but also our capacity to adapt our internal management to the market demand. Thanks to GridXpert we realized a breakthrough in our internal processes through the restructuration of our scientific information system; allowing it to be optimized to triple the capacity usage of the available resources — whilst improving productivity, quality of service, ease of use — and reducing scientific IT costs by more than 20 percent”
Gt: Has the company had any other big wins in the end-user department? What are they?
LUNG: Unfortunately, as of today, we can't communicate freely about our other wins. What we can say is that we have demonstrated the ability of an architecture, able to sustain thousands of CAD users accessing compute resources remotely, and tapping into outside resources in peakload situations. We have also addressed complex workflow issues, dealing with very large files and allowing the mutualization of heterogenous resources across countries.
Gt: I see that the company closely follows the Globus Project and OGSA standards. How do you feel about the work of the Enterprise Grid Alliance and its attempt to establish standards for commercial Grids? Has GridXpert given any thought to joining the recently launched EGA steering committee in Europe?
LUNG: We are in the process to participate in the EGA initiative as we see here a great opportunity to confront, to share and to make progress our industrial expertises and vision in the Grid community. Moreover, after a first phase where we demonstrate innovation and technical expertise to our customers to solve their pains, we need to continue to increase our credibility vis-a-vis of them through standards adherence.
Gt: Finally, I would invite you to address any topics not covered here of which you would like GRIDtoday's readers to be aware.
LUNG: We will be launching Version 2 of the GX Synergy software suite in early 2005. We are preparing a bunch of new features and invite GRIDtoday's readers to discover them soon.