Romancing the Grid

By An opinion column by Mike Bernhardt

February 21, 2005

Just to put a time reference to this article, it's Feb. 14th, 2005 — Valentine's Day.  Flowers, chocolates, dinner dates, champagne and, for the very romantic among us, the day that marks the halfway point of the first calendar year quarter.

2005 is underway.  

As an analyst, I enjoy the business challenges of strategic planning and business forecasting, but I deplore the commentary of prediction. I can't tell you how many people I have spoken with who have made the same comment: “2005 has to be a better year than 2004.”  So, is that a prediction, or just wishful thinking?  

Speaking as a pragmatist who has survived close to 30 years of technology changes and countless predictions of life-changing discoveries, yet is still a technology romantic at heart, I have my own view of 2005 that I would hesitate to label as a prediction. It's too obvious to call it a prediction. This is the year for romancing the Grid.  

So, here it is … Valentine's Day. Anyone ready to make a commitment?

Even as children, the words of the Valentine's cards we sent, and the choice of the card itself, indicated the level of our seriousness and, possibly, our commitment. The same applies today. Courting follows a certain ritual and progresses at a pace that just needs to take its own course. Any organization thinking it can step onto the Grid computing dance floor and romance some anxious partners into a one night stand is in for a rude awakening. This is a love interest that is going to take time to unfold.

Let there be no doubt: engagements in the Grid computing space this year will have all the excitement, mystery and potential romance of a first date.  

So, where does that leave us?

It's only human nature to sit back and ponder the possibilities before stepping deeply into a relationship. We all do it. We imagine the best possible times. We picture the romantic moments. We reach out and try to feel the happiness and security of a fulfilling relationship. Undoubtedly, like we've seen in the Grid computing space during 2004, there's a period of anticipation and eagerness that precedes the courtship phase.  

And that's where a majority of the Grid computing adopters are today.  

The Courtship Phase

In order to successfully pass through the courtship phase, there's one basic rule that stands the test of time:  There must be two interested parties.

I've spoken with a number of executives over the past few weeks about their views (not predictions) on the adoption curve of Grid computing in enterprise environments.

Early attractions are blooming.  

In our personal lives, there's probably not a more romantic story to tell than the “love at first sight” experience. It does happen, but it's rare. What's more common is the experience of first attraction, followed by determination of mutual interest, the dating and courtship phase to see if there's strong compatibility and, finally, thoughts and actions that might lead to long-term romance. I can hear the violins in the background right now. Call me a sentimental guy, but all this business talk makes me feel like a young kid again. The courtship that goes on between corporate bed partners has all the earmarks of the best romantic novels. On one end of the spectrum is a “marriage made in heaven,” and at the other end the courtship goes on for years, only to end up in a wrecked and tattered relationship where the one-time lovers part ways — sometimes as bitter enemies. There's always risk in romance.

But, how exciting those days of discovery can be.

2005 is a year of courtship. This is the year when relationships will be tested, romances will flourish and long-term partners will be selected. Bring on the flowers, chocolates and champagne — it's going to be an exciting year.  There's no reason to be frustrated. The ecosystem is starting to bloom like the first flowers of spring.

You'd have to be living in a cave to not hear the daily buzz that's part of this landscape, like a swarm of restless bees ready to move as an intimidating force, but not quite sure of the exact direction. For some reason, the thought of Valentine's flowers — roses — made me think of bees.

A lucrative business deal, and the courtship of a long-term partner, brings the possibility of being stung. That's just the way it is. If you're not willing to take the risk, you might never reap the rewards or feel the rush of mutual romance. We must take risks in business and romance. We must open up our emotions and put ourselves in the position of being vulnerable. However, it's a process, and it's not meant to be rushed.

Remove the hype — forget about the promises that can't be fulfilled — and set some realistic expectations.
If we're all honest with each other and set realistic expectations, fewer people will be disappointed and we'll see a lot less frustration.

So, while just about every player in the Grid computing space today has announced some form of engagement with multiple partners, the bigger picture market engagement process — the courtship phase between most companies — is still young. A few hearts will be broken in 2005, and few romances will flourish. That's the sign of a market starting to mature. But, to emphasize my point one more time, some things in life just can't be rushed. Those looking for instant gratification from Grid computing are getting frustrated.

Of 47 senior IT execs responding to viewpoint questions on the Grid adoption curve, 98 percent were “positive” to “very positive” that their organizations will find economic and productivity benefits from some implementation of Grid computing. They are ready for romance.

Yet, if I had to select one word that describes the overriding sentiment among those I've talked to, I'd have to say it is “frustration.”

Frustration with the rate of enterprise IT adoption is somewhat understandable. Expectations have been poorly set and, in many cases, based on exaggerated claims and wishful thinking.

Perhaps part of the problem is that companies are trying to shoehorn “Grid” into being a solution for every IT challenge out there?

Those who are skeptical about the impact of Grid computing are clearly outnumbered — dramatically. To continue to pose the argument that Grid computing has yet to prove itself is a slanted argument. True, the commercial adoption and implementation of business-critical enterprise Grids is not yet happening. There are still too many holes in the standards, middleware, security layers and even in the attitude of corporate decision makers. But the capability and potential ROI of Grid computing has been proven many times over. I personally can't remember the last time I have seen such an overwhelming coalition of industry forces working together to bring a computing paradigm to market.

A better understanding might come by taking a look at the bigger picture and seeing that Grid computing is just one element — one component of an enterprise IT romance that could make a best selling novel.

On the heels of GlobusWORLD, a technical forum that provides a nice opportunity for courtship, a milestone VIP Grid summit worth noting will be taking place as the science and technology ministers of the Latin American countries gather in Costa Rica to talk about the potential economic impact of Grid computing in their countries.  Spurred by the melodic strings of Intel, Sun and a few others, romance — as one would expect in Latin America — is clearly in the air. We can expect to see some beautiful relationships forming here. And part of the agenda will be a discussion of Grid computing as part of the much bigger enterprise IT picture.  

We're at the dawn of an important convergence in the world of IT computing infrastructures. A number of industry leaders have started talking about their visions for the Service Oriented Enterprise (SOE) and the infrastructure enabled by Service Oriented Architecture (SOA).

Grid is just one part, albeit a very important part, of the big picture when it comes to building a Service Oriented Enterprise.

Intel's view is to position Grid computing as one element or component of the much bigger SOE infrastructure.  Intel's SOE initiative, with a significant emphasis on Grid computing, has been gaining steady momentum among channel partners and a growing number of enterprise computing environments.

Organizations are coming to see that Grid computing enables some important capabilities such as identifying and virtualizing resources — an important element in creating a functional SOA/SOE environment.

According to Sam Charrington, vice president of product marketing and management at Tsunami Research, Grid computing as it is traditionally defined is simply not suitable for the vast majority of applications forming the core of today's IT environments. Charrington believes that emerging technologies such as Tsunami's approach to “hive computing” will prove to be more adaptable in the world of SOE.  

In general, we tend to agree that approaches to autonomic computing, automatic recognition and allocation of resources are indicative of the next wave — a converged, service-oriented infrastructure in which Grid computing plays a major role.

Another example of positioning Grid computing as part of the bigger picture comes from Oracle. Oracle has been at the forefront of evangelizing Grid computing while also looking at the bigger picture. Oracle's 10g Release 2 is based on a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) with support for a number of enterprise Grid manageability features.

And hats off to Sun. The Sun Grid utility offering is an ambitious initiative that could potentially leapfrog the industry to driving us that much faster into consumer Grid adoption. It's no small task, and it's certainly not for the feint of heart. But then again, when has that ever stopped Sun?  

Overall, I believe it helps greatly in understanding the impact of Grid computing when we don't try to measure the adoption rate of Grid on its own, but rather place it in the context of the much bigger picture of where enterprise computing is going over the next two to five years.

February 2005 — many of us have already made the mental transition from dreading the cold, dreary and less mobile days of winter to anticipating the rejuvenation of spring. For some of us, the thought of spring being right around the corner brings hope of freedom, discovery, playtime and even romance. For others, romance takes a back burner, giving way to preparing lists of household chores to be done as part of the big spring cleaning effort that's ingrained into our society. Such is life. If only we all felt the same way at the same time.

We've moved from the academic-only Grids and we're about to embark into the world of enterprise Grids.  
In this world, there's definitely strength in numbers.

As many companies jockey for position in this emerging market, we can expect to see all the drama of some great romances. As 2005 plays out, it looks like we'll have to work through the courtship phase, some serious dating, some storybook weddings and some ugly divorces, with all the painful litigation of acquisitions and divestitures.

Stay tuned to this column in future issues of GRIDtoday as we dig into the business impact of Grid computing, watch the ecosystem emerge, track the losers and winners, learn more about the courtships and travel together on this exciting journey during 2005 — the year of Romancing the Grid.

About Mike Bernhardt

Mike Bernhardt is CEO of Grid Strategies Inc., a niche market analyst, consulting and advisory group offering guidance, counsel, and business and market planning services for clients of all sizes working in and around the emerging Grid computing industry.

Founded by HPC industry veteran Mike Bernhardt, Grid Strategies utilizes a deep network of contacts throughout academia, government, technical and enterprise computing environments to provide a balanced perspective with unique insight and opinion to help our clients make intelligent, business-critical decisions.

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