Grid Gets Transactional

By Nicole Hemsoth

December 11, 2006

Let's face it: this isn't your father's Grid computing. Gone are the days when Grid was relegated to the back rooms of universities, supercomputing centers and national labs, being used only by “dreamers” with a fantastical vision of sharing the rapidly growing computing resources at their fingertips. They say a technology has reached the big time when it makes the leap from academia to the business world. If this is true, then Grid has not only reached the big time, but done so in ways probably unforeseen to many.

While big business has been using Grid for years now to speed up compute-intensive applications and handle the huge volumes of data they produce, it is more recently, since Grid began its evolution into Grid 2.0, that enterprises have been finding more everyday uses for Grid technology, focusing more on Grid's inherent flexibility and distributed nature than on its brute processing power. One way in which they have been using Grid is to handle transactional applications, a technology trend Gartner has labeled “Grid-based application platforms,” which, as of July, sat on the “Technology Trigger” area of the analyst firm's renowned Hype Cycle.

According to Massimo Pezzini, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, while there are similarities between traditional Grid deployments and Grid-based application platforms, and while the underlying technologies even can be the same, the target, from an application perspective, is different. “In traditional Grid, the problem is allocating processing power and you don't really care about availability of the overall system, if one box is available you don't care. You need to have that server,” he said. “In transactional apps, it is not that simple. With transactional applications, you have to deal with databases, you have to deal with maintaining the transactional integrity of the thing that you are doing. It's a bit more complicated.”

Typically, Pezzini added, these Grid-based application platforms address two main problems that are not always for traditional grids to solve: scalability and availability. When it comes to scalability, it's all about adding more and more hardware resources, he said, and availability is crucial because users need to be able to maintain transactional integrity, which generally requires as close to 100 percent availability as possible — even while adding or removing resources from the grid.

And it is here, Pezzini said, where vendors is this space believe they have the advantage over traditional Grid vendors. Whereas Grid-based application platforms can be applied (to some degree, at least) to straight computational applications, the same cannot be said for traditional grids and transactional applications. Among the vendors trying to exploit this different approach — according the Hype Cycle profile — are GigaSpaces, Appistry, Paremus, Aumega Networks and Majitek, of which Pezzini cites GigaSpaces as being the largest in terms of revenue and customer installations.

If you ask Geva Perry, GigaSpaces' executive vice president of business development, what separates his company from those traditionally associated with Grid computing, he'll tell you it's all about managing the various middleware tiers – – messaging, business logic (computation), data and presentation — necessary to run any business application. While traditional grids can manage applications across distributed resources, have several instances of business logic running to handle the computation, and improve throughput by having tasks split up and ran in parallel — a setup that works nicely for non-data intensive applications with few latency requirements — GigaSpaces caters to customers running transactional applications by focusing on data management with its software.

By providing a distributed data grid, which Perry defines as having data stored locally on grid boxes, as well as having data in memory (often referred to as distributed shared memory), GigaSpaces' solution is able to offer “everything you'd expect from a database in terms of maintaining state during transaction,” he said. The traditional n-tier architecture, he added, requires separate products and separate boxes for each tier, thus creating a fair amount of latency from tiers interacting with one another, data traveling across the network, etc., “Which, for many transactional applications, just won't cut it.” With the GigaSpaces approach, Perry contrasted, the transaction can be completed within a physical box, with the resulting data, business logic, etc., being distributed across the grid of processing units.

“When you think about that architecture, a whole set of questions come to mind,” said Perry. “Number one is: how do I maintain reliability and high availability, especially since I'm holding the data in memory?” Another is: what happens if a job head for a particular box fails? Well, Perry answered, both of these issues are addressed with GigaSpaces' synchronous backup functionality and transactional semantics, which allow other boxes to pick up where the primary one left off.

If it sounds to good to be true, that's because it's designed to be. Perry said GigaSpaces has put a lot of effort into separating the programming language from the underlying distributed architecture, and has been a big hit with developers as a result. The company, he said, has been telling developers to continue writing applications as they have been, in whatever language they please, and the GigaSpaces software will take care of the scalability and distribution, transparent to the application. The same holds true for multi-core machines and applications, Perry added. It is especially important in transactions that order and sequence are maintained when things are happening in parallel, he said, what GigaSpaces is saying is, “Don't worry. We'll take care of it.”

Of course, it isn't developers who make the ultimate purchasing decisions, but GigaSpaces ease-of-use and subsequent ROI and TCO pitch works just as well on IT executives, who very much enjoy hearing about being able to run business-critical, Linux-based applications on commodity hardware, which just happens to be utilized at a higher rate. When you throw in the added benefits of higher throughput, reduced complexity and not having to pay for new development skills for the IT staff, the pot is only sweetened. One executive who has experienced what GigaSpaces brings to the table is Bec Wilson, CTO of Sempra Energy.

Sempra Energy has been using GigaSpaces for around two years, primarily to load historical and future price curves into memory for the company's commodity trading applications. According to Wilson, legacy platform for handling these applications was “all JDBC/ODBC SQL fetch stuff,” and was orders of magnitude slower with much longer night-cycle processes and batch processes. “If we pre-load stuff, we see 100X increases in data access. If we're not preloading stuff, on the first hit it takes just as long to load it as before, but on the second hit we see those 100X performance increases again,” said Wilson. “If the optics are already there waiting on us, there's just no comparison — we can do things in minutes now that used to take us hours because of how much data loading we had to do.”

Interestingly, though, Sempra Energy does not solely use GigaSpaces for its Grid computing needs. Actually, said Wilson, in Sempra's data center, GigaSpaces serves in many ways as an “extremely valuable” and “extremely important” complement to the company's Sun Rio/Jini computing grid. This grid, Wilson explained, is used for executing portfolio evaluation jobs, which lend themselves pretty well to a parallel-processing environment. Each node on the Sun grid is in communication with the GigaSpaces shared memory and thus has access to whatever pricing curves have been loaded. This is so important, he said, because several evaluations might need the same curve simultaneously or back-to-back, and GigaSpaces makes the curve available without having to re-fetch 10 years of electricity pricing data every time they run.

Overall, Wilson said, the GigaSpaces software has really empowered his computing grid, and his staff has been “very impressed” with how well it lays down and how well-behaved it is. “In terms of performance and reliability, it's been a pretty exemplary product, and a lot of technical guys are pretty hard on vendors — it really appeals to the super-technical types,” he noted. “And it's beginning to appeal to the executives whenever we can talk about 10 to 100X performance increases. It's been impressive all the way around. The techs, the guys who really use it a lot, swear by it.”

GigaSpaces, however, is not alone in the Grid-based application platform market. As noted earlier, Appistry also plays in this space, although it takes a different approach with its Enterprise Application Fabric (EAF). From the outside, EAF (which has been the focus of two GRIDtoday articles: http://www.gridtoday.com/grid/738014.html and http://www.gridtoday.com/grid/698929.html) more closely resembles the grids with which most people are familiar than does GigaSpaces' software, and does not focus on the data management aspect of handling transactions, but rather on the time element. Like GigaSpaces, though, Appistry believes its fully distributed architecture is the key to efficiently dealing with transactional applications.

Sam Charrington, Appistry's vice president of product management and marketing, said EAF is engineered from the ground-up to solve time-sensitive problems, and he believes its peer-to-peer model, which eliminates single points of failure or scheduling bottlenecks, is one of the key architectural shifts that separates his company from traditional Grid vendors. “In our world, everything is more geared toward the transactional, or time-sensitive, type of application, where there's a pool of commodity machines that are centrally located within the data center,” said Charrington. “Transactions or jobs, pieces of work or service requests: These things are constantly coming in and dynamically being farmed out to the different machines or workers in a fabric.”

When it comes to dealing with transactions, there are few (if any) hotter buzz technologies than SOA, which Charrington said also benefits from EAF's fabric architecture more so than from traditional grid architectures. Whereas traditional Grid vendors tend to look at SOA in terms of creating a service that sets the front end to schedule jobs, a fabric application is essentially a collection of services, which is more amenable to the Web services types of application organizations are looking to deploy. “People who think that the Grid market is small are looking at yesterday's definition of 'Grid,'” he said. “Who out there that is deploying an SOA doesn't need an environment that allows their services to be scalable? One of the whole points of SOA is that you put these services out there and other people consume them. They use them, and roll them into their own applications… . A model like ours that ensures reliability of these applications is absolutely key.”

One Appistry customer, who just happens to be in the transaction business, is Clearent — an upstart company with its sights set on the credit card payment processing market. To hear Clearent's senior director of product management, Mark Peck, tell it, Appistry's solution is pretty much a perfect fit for this type of work. In the highly transactional authorization process, for example, there is a huge emphasis on low latency and fast response times, as authorization for purchases needs to given in real-time. The next step of any credit card transaction is the settlement process, where all the appropriate interchange rates, fees, etc., are applied. While this is done in a batch fashion several times per day, the individual jobs — like most in a Grid-based application platform environment — are relatively small, certainly nothing requiring processing power of the TeraGrid. Clearent, Peck said, also uses Appistry to handle the various services it offers as part of its unique Web interface.

Aside from the fact that Appistry EAF is able to meet Clearent's needs in terms of handling both transactional and batch-oriented tasks, Peck also points to flexibility and ease of use — two properties often associated with GigaSpaces solution, as well as most others in this space — as big reasons for choosing the product. When it comes to flexibility, he noted that most authorizations take place during business hours while most settlements take place during off hours, which adds extra importance to the ability to dynamically adjust the configuration of the fabric. As for ease of use, Peck cited an instance where Clearent was given some PERL code from a partner, and was able to easily adapt it to run in the fabric environment — something it was not initially intended to do. In most traditional grid deployments, applications must be specifically written or re-written to take advantage of the grid.

However, despite the advantage Peck believes Appistry will bring Clearent when it commences operations in January, he sees most of his competitors still clinging to their old mainframes. “To our knowledge, there are no players who are currently planning to implement something Grid-based,” he said. “They may gain some advantages if they choose to go with just a standard open system and modern computing hardware and programming languages, but they will still incur a lot of costs for management, administration and scalability in terms of the hardware issues that we have managed to take out of our cost equation.”

And, while Clearent won't begin actually processing credit card transactions until next month, there are plenty of businesses already online whose infrastructures have to handle millions of transactions every day, and combine to create a market for what Gartner's Pezzini calls Extreme Transaction Processing, or XTP. From discount travel sites to airline company sites to shopping sites like Amazon, businesses are seeing exponential growth in the transaction workload they have to deal with, he said, noting that before the Internet, hotels and airlines averaged seven looks for every booking, a ratio that has skyrocketed to 300:1. As a result, these businesses need to reduce the cost of processing each transaction on their e-commerce applications, and the big, costly, difficult-to-use mainframes, such as IBM's old TPF (Transaction Processing Facility), just aren't going to cut it for most of these companies. Grid-based application platforms from companies like GigaSpaces and Appistry, with their easy-to-configure software and ability to utilize commodity hardware, are one of the best candidates to deal with this growing problem, Pezzini said.

GigaSpaces' Perry also has noticed this trend taking place, and cites these applications' latency and scalability requirements, especially with the increase in data that accompanies the avalanche of transactions they see, as a main reason his company is seeing interest from the space. “The big question is scalability,” he said. “To achieve true scalability, meaning that I can easily grow my application to [fit my] needs without having to change it … I need a different model — a model that virtualizes or abstracts the underlying resources from my application components. Having each tier tightly coupled with its hardware is not going to cut it.”

As with any burgeoning technology, though, there are some issues the Grid-based application platform market needs to overcome. In Pezzini's opinion, these challenges begin with the fact that their potential customers simply are not familiar with the companies or what they do. While he acknowledges that there are instances (about 5 percent of the potential market) where these vendors' technologies are the only answer, in which case they get discovered, they are most often competing against universally recognized names like Microsoft, IBM, Oracle and BEA Systems. Ironically, perhaps, Pezzini believes these same large competitors also are a key to success for GigaSpaces, Appistry and their peers. He said that by getting buy-in from big systems integrators, software vendors and hardware vendors, these companies could greatly increase their ability to move forward and educate their marketplace of customers. The other big obstacle, according to Pezzini, is something that should sound familiar to anyone in the Grid community. “Those guys, sooner or later, need to get together and agree on some standards,” he said, “because if they remain segmented, with everybody going his own direction, they're not going to grow any farther.”

Just as users of traditional grids often decry the lack of standards — hoping for the ability to build their Grid environments using best-in-class pieces from multiple vendors, as well the knowledge that any applications would run smoothly should there be a big change — potential Grid-based application platform customers would sleep a lot easier, Pezzini said, knowing if, for example, something were to go wrong with their GigaSpaces implementation, they could migrate the application to Paremus or Appistry. Standards are the way to catalyze their marketplace, he added, because while some customers might not be willing to bet all their resources on a little vendor like Majitek, they are more likely to bet on multiple vendors.

Even with the perceived obstacles this space faces, it definitely has the technologies to make a big mark on the Grid landscape should it overcome them. As data stores and the need to manage it continue to grow, while the time limits to process the transaction that created the data continue to shrink, all, of course, under the constant push to cut costs, vendors like GigaSpaces, Appistry and their peers in the Grid-based application platform space will be there, touting solutions that seem too good to be true — even though they often are.

Appistry's Charrington, for one, remains steadfastly optimistic. And who can blame him? “If you think about it, yesterday's strictly computation grids are quickly migrating into today's and tomorrow's Grid application platforms. Some people call it Grid 2.0,” he observed. “Grid plainly has a lot of advantages to offer the enterprise for business-oriented types of applications, and that process of migrating from Grid middleware or Grid scheduler to Grid-based application platforms is really the key.”

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

SIA Recognizes Robert Dennard with 2019 Noyce Award

November 12, 2019

If you don’t know what Dennard Scaling is, the chances are strong you don’t labor in electronics. Robert Dennard, longtime IBM researcher, inventor of the DRAM and the fellow for whom Dennard Scaling was named, is th Read more…

By John Russell

Leveraging Exaflops Performance to Remediate Nuclear Waste

November 12, 2019

Nuclear waste storage sites are a subject of intense controversy and debate; nobody wants the radioactive remnants in their backyard. Now, a collaboration between Berkeley Lab, Pacific Northwest National University (PNNL Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Using HPC and Machine Learning to Predict Traffic Congestion

November 12, 2019

Traffic congestion is a never-ending logic puzzle, dictated by commute patterns, but also by more stochastic accidents and similar disruptions. Traffic engineers struggle to model the traffic flow that occurs after accid Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Mira Supercomputer Enables Cancer Research Breakthrough

November 11, 2019

Dynamic partial-wave spectroscopic (PWS) microscopy allows researchers to observe intracellular structures as small as 20 nanometers – smaller than those visible by optical microscopes – in three dimensions at a mill Read more…

By Staff report

IBM Adds Support for Ion Trap Quantum Technology to Qiskit

November 11, 2019

After years of percolating in the shadow of quantum computing research based on superconducting semiconductors – think IBM, Rigetti, Google, and D-Wave (quantum annealing) – ion trap technology is edging into the QC Read more…

By John Russell

AWS Solution Channel

Making High Performance Computing Affordable and Accessible for Small and Medium Businesses with HPC on AWS

High performance computing (HPC) brings a powerful set of tools to a broad range of industries, helping to drive innovation and boost revenue in finance, genomics, oil and gas extraction, and other fields. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Tackling HPC’s Memory and I/O Bottlenecks with On-Node, Non-Volatile RAM

November 8, 2019

On-node, non-volatile memory (NVRAM) is a game-changing technology that can remove many I/O and memory bottlenecks and provide a key enabler for exascale. That’s the conclusion drawn by the scientists and researcher Read more…

By Jan Rowell

IBM Adds Support for Ion Trap Quantum Technology to Qiskit

November 11, 2019

After years of percolating in the shadow of quantum computing research based on superconducting semiconductors – think IBM, Rigetti, Google, and D-Wave (quant Read more…

By John Russell

Tackling HPC’s Memory and I/O Bottlenecks with On-Node, Non-Volatile RAM

November 8, 2019

On-node, non-volatile memory (NVRAM) is a game-changing technology that can remove many I/O and memory bottlenecks and provide a key enabler for exascale. Th Read more…

By Jan Rowell

MLPerf Releases First Inference Benchmark Results; Nvidia Touts its Showing

November 6, 2019

MLPerf.org, the young AI-benchmarking consortium, today issued the first round of results for its inference test suite. Among organizations with submissions wer Read more…

By John Russell

Azure Cloud First with AMD Epyc Rome Processors

November 6, 2019

At Ignite 2019 this week, Microsoft's Azure cloud team and AMD announced an expansion of their partnership that began in 2017 when Azure debuted Epyc-backed ins Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Launches Credit Card-Sized 21 TOPS Jetson System for Edge Devices

November 6, 2019

Nvidia has launched a new addition to its Jetson product line: a credit card-sized (70x45mm) form factor delivering up to 21 trillion operations/second (TOPS) o Read more…

By Doug Black

In Memoriam: Steve Tuecke, Globus Co-founder

November 4, 2019

HPCwire is deeply saddened to report that Steve Tuecke, longtime scientist at Argonne National Lab and University of Chicago, has passed away at age 52. Tuecke Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Spending Spree: Hyperscalers Bought $57B of IT in 2018, $10B+ by Google – But Is Cloud on Horizon?

October 31, 2019

Hyperscalers are the masters of the IT universe, gravitational centers of increasing pull in the emerging age of data-driven compute and AI.  In the high-stake Read more…

By Doug Black

Cray Debuts ClusterStor E1000 Finishing Remake of Portfolio for ‘Exascale Era’

October 30, 2019

Cray, now owned by HPE, today introduced the ClusterStor E1000 storage platform, which leverages Cray software and mixes hard disk drives (HDD) and flash memory Read more…

By John Russell

Supercomputer-Powered AI Tackles a Key Fusion Energy Challenge

August 7, 2019

Fusion energy is the Holy Grail of the energy world: low-radioactivity, low-waste, zero-carbon, high-output nuclear power that can run on hydrogen or lithium. T Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Using AI to Solve One of the Most Prevailing Problems in CFD

October 17, 2019

How can artificial intelligence (AI) and high-performance computing (HPC) solve mesh generation, one of the most commonly referenced problems in computational engineering? A new study has set out to answer this question and create an industry-first AI-mesh application... Read more…

By James Sharpe

Cray Wins NNSA-Livermore ‘El Capitan’ Exascale Contract

August 13, 2019

Cray has won the bid to build the first exascale supercomputer for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and Lawrence Livermore National Laborator Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

DARPA Looks to Propel Parallelism

September 4, 2019

As Moore’s law runs out of steam, new programming approaches are being pursued with the goal of greater hardware performance with less coding. The Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency is launching a new programming effort aimed at leveraging the benefits of massive distributed parallelism with less sweat. Read more…

By George Leopold

AMD Launches Epyc Rome, First 7nm CPU

August 8, 2019

From a gala event at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco yesterday (Aug. 7), AMD launched its second-generation Epyc Rome x86 chips, based on its 7nm proce Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

D-Wave’s Path to 5000 Qubits; Google’s Quantum Supremacy Claim

September 24, 2019

On the heels of IBM’s quantum news last week come two more quantum items. D-Wave Systems today announced the name of its forthcoming 5000-qubit system, Advantage (yes the name choice isn’t serendipity), at its user conference being held this week in Newport, RI. Read more…

By John Russell

Ayar Labs to Demo Photonics Chiplet in FPGA Package at Hot Chips

August 19, 2019

Silicon startup Ayar Labs continues to gain momentum with its DARPA-backed optical chiplet technology that puts advanced electronics and optics on the same chip Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Crystal Ball Gazing: IBM’s Vision for the Future of Computing

October 14, 2019

Dario Gil, IBM’s relatively new director of research, painted a intriguing portrait of the future of computing along with a rough idea of how IBM thinks we’ Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

ISC 2019 Virtual Booth Video Tour

CRAY
CRAY
DDN
DDN
DELL EMC
DELL EMC
GOOGLE
GOOGLE
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
PANASAS
PANASAS
VERNE GLOBAL
VERNE GLOBAL

Intel Confirms Retreat on Omni-Path

August 1, 2019

Intel Corp.’s plans to make a big splash in the network fabric market for linking HPC and other workloads has apparently belly-flopped. The chipmaker confirmed to us the outlines of an earlier report by the website CRN that it has jettisoned plans for a second-generation version of its Omni-Path interconnect... Read more…

By Staff report

Kubernetes, Containers and HPC

September 19, 2019

Software containers and Kubernetes are important tools for building, deploying, running and managing modern enterprise applications at scale and delivering enterprise software faster and more reliably to the end user — while using resources more efficiently and reducing costs. Read more…

By Daniel Gruber, Burak Yenier and Wolfgang Gentzsch, UberCloud

Dell Ramps Up HPC Testing of AMD Rome Processors

October 21, 2019

Dell Technologies is wading deeper into the AMD-based systems market with a growing evaluation program for the latest Epyc (Rome) microprocessors from AMD. In a Read more…

By John Russell

Intel Debuts Pohoiki Beach, Its 8M Neuron Neuromorphic Development System

July 17, 2019

Neuromorphic computing has received less fanfare of late than quantum computing whose mystery has captured public attention and which seems to have generated mo Read more…

By John Russell

Rise of NIH’s Biowulf Mirrors the Rise of Computational Biology

July 29, 2019

The story of NIH’s supercomputer Biowulf is fascinating, important, and in many ways representative of the transformation of life sciences and biomedical res Read more…

By John Russell

Xilinx vs. Intel: FPGA Market Leaders Launch Server Accelerator Cards

August 6, 2019

The two FPGA market leaders, Intel and Xilinx, both announced new accelerator cards this week designed to handle specialized, compute-intensive workloads and un Read more…

By Doug Black

When Dense Matrix Representations Beat Sparse

September 9, 2019

In our world filled with unintended consequences, it turns out that saving memory space to help deal with GPU limitations, knowing it introduces performance pen Read more…

By James Reinders

With the Help of HPC, Astronomers Prepare to Deflect a Real Asteroid

September 26, 2019

For years, NASA has been running simulations of asteroid impacts to understand the risks (and likelihoods) of asteroids colliding with Earth. Now, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are preparing for the next, crucial step in planetary defense against asteroid impacts: physically deflecting a real asteroid. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This