If the attendees of the GRIDtoday VIP Summit take one thing away from the event's first day, it might very well be that Grid computing — both the technology and the market — is desperately in need of a standard definition.
In a morning panel led by HPC veteran Mike Bernhardt, a quartet of industry analysts were asked a battery of questions designed to shed light on a market mired in confusion. For example, when asked if the various definitions of Grid computing act as a barrier to accelerated market acceptance, all four panelists — Dan Kusnetzky and Addison Snell of IDC as well as Martin McCarthy and Steve Wallage of The 451 Group — seemed to agree that while the definitions might not be a barrier, they definitely muddy the waters for everyone involved.
According to Kusnetzky, he is tracking 14 different buzzwords that people he speaks to equate with Grid computing, including technologies such as blade computing and network-attached storage (NAS). There needs to be clarity, he said.
IDC's Snell pointed out, however, that in the HPC market, there is little confusion among end-users as to what constitutes a Grid. Users know what they want, he said, but vendors do suffer as a result of the confusion when they try to lay out Grid packages that define what, exactly, customers can expect from a Grid infrastructure.
Just how much does this confusion affect vendors? According to The 451 Group's Wallage, it can be pretty intense. He remarked that start-ups that use the term “Grid” in defining what they do are often “dead in the water.” Many will use other terms, such as “next-generation computing,” as they don't want to be directly associated with Grid, he said.
Even among Grid's biggest proponents, there is an obvious disconnect. The 451 Group's McCarthy cited as an example the Oracle Grid, which he said is not even a Grid at all. In fact, when moderator Bernhardt posed the question of how Grid will affect the cluster market, McCarthy quipped, “I think the Oracle Grid will definitely drive the market for clusters.”
Although the panelists agreed that clusters and Grids are not competitive, there still is confusion. Perhaps it is because some perceive a main draw of Grid computing to be its ability to harness the power of all the connected processors — something for which clusters are specifically designed. In addition, clusters often act as nodes on larger Grids — a relationship that can be hard to grasp for potential users not well versed in those technologies.
This topic came up again in a presentation by GGF chair Mark Linesch, when he acknowledged the line between clusters and Grids can be fuzzy at times. “How many clusters could a clusterer cluster if a cluster could cluster clusters?” he joked. “And when is that a Grid?”
If all this discussion about the difficulty in defining Grid computing, and the ill effects it can have on the market, wasn't enough, the point was drilled home during the final presentation of the day. DataSynapse's chief marketing officer, Kelly Vizzini, laid out five reasons why more companies are not adopting Grid computing. As expected, her first reason is an overall lack of understanding among potential users. Vizzini then, however, suggested instead of wasting time on definitions, vendors in the Grid space should spend their energy answering questions about what Grids can do for a company.
This suggestion is in stark contrast to suggestions made by Bernhardt during the panel earlier in the day. His advice: vendors should go to great lengths to define how you define Grid. Upon closer inspection, though, the two ideas might not be that different, after all. If vendors can present prospective users with a concrete definition of Grid — what it is, what it isn't, what it can do and what it can't do — those users should be able to decide whether Grid is truly the solution for their problems.
So, what can the Grid community take away from this important discussion? The answer is in how it presents the technology to end-users. Whether one standard definition of Grid computing will ever emerge remains to be seen — although events like the GRIDtoday VIP Summits could go along way to making this happen. The real challenge remains making users understand all that Grid has to offer and how it can help them achieve their goals.