United Devices Chief Executive Officer Ben Rouse recently paused to talk about the future of his company in the growing world of infrastructure virtualization. It turns out UD's expertise earned while building global research grids over the past seven years produced technologies and know-how that are exactly what data centers and IT service providers need to manage the growing, complex, and costly infrastructure of physical and virtual resources.
GRIDtoday: United Devices (UD) has seemingly overnight introduced a wide range of solutions and products focused on virtual clusters, high performance computing (HPC) management and analytics, and now virtual infrastructure management and managed application services. Is UD moving away from grid, the industry it helped pioneer?
BEN ROUSE: United Devices is deeply involved managing virtual and distributed IT infrastructures, especially for data centers and high performance computing environments, because the market is driving grid technologies in that direction. The grid fit in virtualization has been confirmed by our customers who are using these capabilities today. But it would be wrong to say we have lost interest in grid or that our expansion toward data centers has happened “overnight.” Actually, we have been working for more than two years with a number of Global 2000 customers on comprehensive solutions in the area of virtual infrastructure management, including automatic provisioning of applications based on service level agreements (SLAs). We have just been in stealth mode because many of our customers consider our infrastructure management solutions to be critical competitive technologies. And grid is far from being an area we're moving away from — in fact, grid is the “how” behind our success in the data center environment. It's the proven grid capabilities in the HPC side of the business that allowed UD to build and deliver our recently announced data center and managed services offerings.
Gt: Today, lots of companies are talking about infrastructure virtualization and managing distributed assets. What makes UD different?
ROUSE: For one thing, we are doing more than just talking. We are well ahead of the field in terms of the development and customer traction curve, especially in the area of automated resource provisioning. Our solutions are proven, and development projects critical to a company's success are running on commercial UD solutions at hundreds of our clients worldwide. Now, data center managers have realized that initiatives like consolidation, server virtualization, and utility computing can only take them so far in achieving the full promise of a virtualized, “lights-out” infrastructure. These technologies tend to be resource-centric and static, requiring a significant amount of human intervention to manage — and they don't always comprehend application SLAs and other policies by which performance is assured.
In our experience, an application-centric approach to virtualization, where provisioning is fully automated based on established SLAs, is the most effective way for an IT provider to support large numbers of internal or external customers via a shared infrastructure model. Grid technology is ideally suited to provide this capability because of its ability to match the most eligible IT infrastructure with application requirements on the fly and because of its natural service orientation. It's the logical next step in the evolution of the next generation data center, and only UD has the proven capabilities to deliver on this now.
Also, we are different from other vendors who are offering a virtualization play in that our architecture was built from the ground up to operate across heterogeneous, widely distributed environments where scalability and resilience are paramount. UD also has a number of technology-specific differentiators, best of breed management capabilities, and large-scale production proof points which position us well in the application infrastructure virtualization field.
Another major differentiator is that UD provides solutions that work across the full range of hardware, operating systems, and networks a customer might be using. Most other companies are building solutions that just promote their own products. UD works hard to develop truly heterogeneous solutions that map to a customer's real needs.
Gt: You recently announced your first data center management solution, Data Center One. How does it solve a data center's needs?
ROUSE: Data Center One is an application-centric virtualization solution that for the first time lets enterprise data centers vastly extend productivity and lower total cost of ownership (TCO) by automatically provisioning business critical applications across an organization's physical and virtual assets. The value behind Data Center One is its ability to use a policy engine in tandem with a repurposing engine to dynamically allocate heterogeneous physical and virtual IT resources according to SLA-mandated performance targets and the requirements of the application being run. No one else in our industry can do this today.
The result is that, with Data Center One, IT shops can significantly increase utilization rates, remove processing bottlenecks, consolidate resources, reduce infrastructure and application TCO, and enable SLA-driven performance. If that sounds too good to be true, consider this: In a recent white paper, UD demonstrated that infrastructure costs related to SAP implementations run with Data Center One technology can be reduced by more than 35 percent.
And none of this is “vaporware.” We have been working with Global 2000 clients for the past two years to build these capabilities. Data Center One is available from UD right now.
Gt: Is Data Center One a plug-and-play solution then?
ROUSE: No. Data Center One is modular, with some elements that must be customized to meet the unique needs of the individual organization. Under the UD methodology, Data Center One components sit atop existing technologies (like applications, virtual machines, and hardware), keeping in touch through grid agents. Other capabilities provide for dynamic network alignment and managed access to additional utility computing or virtual resources.
The entire stack gets its direction from the policy engine, which must be custom built to reflect the needs of each company. Based on application scaling rules, SLA monitors, and event metrics, the policy engine uses evaluations and optimizers to send instructions to the repurposing engine to provision capacity on the fly. Provisioning is immediate, and application lifecycle management is an implicit part of the technology. Reliability and availability are also automatically addressed.
Gt: Aren't application licenses a problem?
ROUSE: Licensing issues are becoming less and less of a problem. For one thing, data center owners are beginning to demand grid enablement as part of their applications license agreements. In addition, systems integrators and companies like UD are stepping up with solutions, like the SAP solution I mentioned earlier. UD and Satyam just last month announced the method to grid-enable SAP by integrating through SAP's Adaptive Computing Controller (ACC).
Rather than having separate dedicated application servers for each SAP instance, with our solution all SAP instances run across a single pool of shared servers that are automatically provisioned according to scalability, availability, SLA requirements, policy definitions and other factors.
Our SAP solution is just one example. We are aware of similar efforts involving most major application software offerings, including SAS, Oracle, and Siebel. It is in the interest of application providers to meet the demands of their customers, and some of their largest customers are demanding grid-enablement as part of their overall IT strategy in the data center.
Gt: When you announced Data Center One, you also rolled out something called Service One? What is that?
ROUSE: Service One uses the same core technology as Data Center One to enable IT service providers to build fully managed application delivery services for their customers. Service One provides automated, SLA-driven provisioning of applications across pools of heterogeneous IT assets that may span data centers, business units and companies with no restrictions based on location or ownership of assets. United Devices approach complements the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) trend by making the underlying infrastructure completely transparent to the consumers of the software or the service and accurately tracking usage of all resources by users and applications. Also, as more consumers of the software come online, it is critical to be able to quickly scale the underlying infrastructure in a transparent manner. The United Devices approach is able to do exactly that.
A number of telecommunications companies are very active in this area, marrying advanced infrastructure management within their networks to provide application delivery services to their customers through a shared infrastructure paradigm. We see this as a very promising field for UD in 2007.
In addition, UD will continue to offer Internet Grid Solutions as a managed service offering, which helps organizations create volunteer member webs over the internet, in the style of www.grid.org or IBM's World Community Grid, which is built on UD technology. Our ability to build this type of large-scale, Internet-based grid service has always been a key differentiator for UD, and (as with Service One) we expect this area to be extremely fruitful for UD this year.
Gt: So, how would you summarize UD as a company today?
ROUSE: We are experts in grid and application virtualization solutions that help organizations get the most from their IT resources — whether that is a data center grappling with management of virtual infrastructure, a services provider offering virtualized applications to its customers, a research group seeking to speed up HPC application processing, or a global organization developing and building a new Internet grid for research and marketing purposes.
In a nutshell, we are about delivering proven management solutions that work efficiently, securely, and reliably in the new virtual infrastructure ecosystem. And that's what large scale IT organizations will be all about in the future.