Hosting Providers Go Grid

By Derrick Harris

September 25, 2006

For the week after a major industry event, last week certainly gave us quite a bit of news. One of the more interesting items came from a new company called 3Tera, which is providing a Grid “operating system” to hosting providers.

I got a chance to speak with several members of the 3Tera team at the Hosting Transformation Summit in Las Vegas, and they are very excited about what the new solution will do for utility hosting. I’ll leave the technical details to the announcement, as it will do a better job of capturing them than will I, but AppLogic is, in a nutshell, designed to run transactional applications (so long as they can run on Linux, there is no need to Grid-enable them) in a completely virtualized environment across a homogenuous grid of commodity servers. Essentially, 3Tera vice president of sales and marketing Bert Armijo told me, the idea is to separate users from the concept of worrying about hardware. In fact, I left the meeting with an AppLogic T-shirt bearing a right-to-the-point message: Real men don’t manage servers (anymore)!

This sentiment was echoed by Todd Abrams, president of 3Tera customer Layered Technologies. A hosting provider, Layered Technologies has a basic on-demand model involving adding servers as needed, Abrams said, but adding AppLogic on top of the existing infrastructure means increased abilities in terms of scaling and resource utilization, as well as a decrease among his customers in terms worrying about how many and what kinds of boxes they’re running. By creating AppLogic grids, he said, there is a sense comfort that comes from seeing the functionalities of the software, as well as knowing the hardware resources will be fully utilized.

Another advantage AppLogic gives Layered Technologies (especially with Web 2.0 and Saas customers), Abrams noted, is the option to incorporate a metered pricing model, which isn’t prevalent in the highly commoditzed low-end dedicated server market. One particular Layered Technologies customer, a greeting card company, probably would stand to benefit from utility pricing, he said. “Typically, they have 20 to 30 servers with us. I’m trying to get them to go to a grid because every year around Christmas time, from the end of October … right through the end of February, they ramp up usually another 30 or 40 servers because they’re processing all their greeting cards over that period.” However, due to a grid’s resource utilization and scalability properties, metered pricing could prove quite cost-effective versus simply running dozens of dual-core boxes.

While I was at the conference, I sat in on a panel discussion that included Abrams, as well as 3Tera president and CEO Vladimir Miloushev, and SAVVIS senior vice president of product engineering and development Mike Tardiff. The discussion was centered around the draws of utility-based hosting services, and what I heard (big surprise considering the panelists) was along the lines I’ve already noted. Abrams, along with 3Tera’s Miloushev, stressed that they’re both seeing Grid- and utility-based hosting catching on thanks, in large part, to the increase in functionality. The panel also touched upon Amazon’s entry into the space with its EC2 offering. SAVVIS’ Tardiff has an interesting take on this, comparing Amazon to eBay in terms of enabling “mom and pop” e-commerce.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit I’m not particularly well-versed in the hosted services market, but I do believe I like what I see in terms of how certain players in that sector are looking at Grid computing. Not unlike the current push for transactional and business-critical applications being able to run on in-house grids, hosting providers are seeing that they can provide this same functionality as a part of their respective services. While there is a lot of debate over whether utility computing will ever really catch on (especially when it comes to running compute-intensive applications), the barriers have certainly been lowered in terms of transactional applications if AppLogic makes managing a hosted grid as easy as 3Tera claims.

As for the rest of the issue, some articles of interest include: Europe investing even more money into Grid; Ken King and William Fellows from GRIDwire; GridwiseTech connecting a commercial user to EGEE’s infrastructure; and HP investing $500 million in SOA.

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