In this interview with GRIDtoday, Majitek Director of Marketing Rob Cumming discusses his company's Grid application platform, Software-as-a-Service and Device- as-a-Service solutions, as well as where he sees the future heading in terms of Grid and virtualization intersecting in the service-oriented environment.
GRIDtoday: To begin, can you explain what Majitek does in the area of Grid computing? What is the flagship solution?
ROB CUMMING: Our primary product is GridSystem. Essentially, it's a hybrid application server/Grid computing platform. We've taken the concept of the traditional grid, filing out work across a set of computers, as a concept in terms of distributing load or parallelization of computational processing, but really we've tried to bring that concept into a much more general-purpose, Java application runtime environment. What we're trying to do is extend the concept of what a standard application server would be able to do for a single application and enable the software developer to break the application into individual components, which obviously lends itself to a service-oriented approach to software design. Once we've got a much more granular ability to deploy individual service components, we can then virtualize them across multiple CPUs, and then parallelize the number of instances of each component available to gain either throughput or processing power. We're basically allowing you to break an application or, in fact, multiple applications, into component parts, to pour them into a single virtualized environment and then parallelize either throughput or processing power per component. It gives you a much more fine-tuned, granular ability to tune performance, optimize utilization of CPU resources and enable high throughput to bottleneck aspects of an individual application. And then we have the whole [easy-to-use] interface that makes it simpler for an administrator or IT people to manage an application environment, therefore reducing costs, as well.
Just to draw a final parallel, I guess some of the areas the traditional app server companies are moving toward — like a distributed application platform or a virtualized extension on top of their existing application server environments — we have that inherently within the architecture of our platform, so we have a much simpler footprint to deploy.
Gt: What do you think customers looking for in a Grid environment, and how do you address those with GridSystem?
CUMMING: Obviously, the traditional concept with Grid is to try and get parallelization of a compute-intensive task. So, you've got scientific-style … where you have a problem to solve and you need to distribute the load of that problem across multiple CPUs and parallelize that to get results fast. That's the traditional sense of Grid. We're looking at the concept probably more from an enterprise application perspective, where … the move is to start to expose middle-office and back-office functions out through a Web portal or Web application and suddenly having hundreds of thousands of concurrent users trying to access the same piece of business logic. It's causing a sort of glass ceiling on some of their application environments, so they start to have these scale, performance and high availability bottlenecks they're hitting with the traditional Web-based application environment.
We're bringing this concept of Grid computing and virtualization and being able to break down these applications into more granular service components to enable them to achieve a high-performance, highly available and, probably, high- throughput style of application environment, but for a much lower cost than if they were to try to gain that high availability or scalability by just throwing hardware at the problem or putting these more complicated clustering scenarios on top of their existing application server environments. We're just seeing a lot of complexity and a lot of moving parts in these deployed environments, and then the costs associated with that complexity, and we're really trying to provide that capability, but with a single application platform environment.
Gt: How do Majitek's other solutions play into this architecture?
CUMMING: Extending on the base platform, we have a number of more targeted, or application- or function-specific, products. We've got a Device-as-a-Service platform, EdgeSystem, which is about abstracting the concept of a device and representing it as a software service. Now, device middleware is not an unknown concept to people, but by being able to represent a physical object as a software service, we can then deploy that onto our Grid platform amd make it highly scalable, highly available and all the other properties inherent in our Grid platform. That allows to connect together [a center network] — very large, distributed system problems that have lots of physical information points that need to be integrated together — and then you can lay a control system application or business logic on top of that to send command control to those software objects.
The key problem we're solving there is trying to make a very simple, easily encapsulated means for integrators and software deveolpers to represent a physical device and its control capabilities. It is then made a simple software object that can be deployed on our Grid platform, which can then scale up to the millions or hundreds of millions of devices with a fairly low footprint in terms of server infrastructure to maintain that very complex system.
Gt: What about your Software-as-a-Service offering?
CUMMING: On the other side of that problem, we see customers who have a totally integrated environment that is deployed and fully distributed and millions of people can access that environment and all of the connected actors within the system, and the first thing they want to do is control the use of and access to all those different actors and systems and pieces of software. Really, what we're doing with our CloudSystem product is applying the concept of digital rights management to a software object — that is any software object that's deployed on the grid and, by extension of that, any device that is connected as software object. When we apply the concepts of digital rights management, we can say, “Well, look” — at a very basic level — “this particular user is able to access or view this software object.” They might be able to control it, to consume it, to download it, press buttons, etc., within that particular component. Once we have the ability to control rights, we can put a billing or a transactional capability around the use of that object, as well.
The concept of Software as a Service is just controlling the use of a software object and then putting a transactional or billing event around the use of that object. By linking these three concepts together, we can basically charge for the right to use very-wide-area networks of these devices. We can solve a wide variety of problems within these three spheres of capabilities. We … lower TCO of very complex applications that have extreme transaction processing requirements; we have the ability to integrate very-wide-area networks of hundreds of millions of devices and then control them; and then we have the ability to sell software objects or control the use of software objects and devices from a central point.
We're applying these inherent infrastructure platforms in a number of ways … I don't know about you guys, but certainly climate change is driving a need for people to monitor and report in realtime the emissions of things or the precipitation of water or the flow of electricity and things like that. They need to do that at a national scale, aggregate all that information together and bring it into some sort of enterprise-class application, which would then provide reporting, monitoring, etc.
On the other side, we're seeing these very large telcos moving out of their traditional voice-based services into triple-play and multi-service operations, where they've effectively moved to a fully IP-based network environment. They're then looking to sell services, which are essentially software objects, much in the same way Google has this massive grid full of software objects that they allow people to use for free. They have an ad revenue model based around that, and we can kind of do the same thing, but we also can do a DRM, music download- style of billing model around the access and use of software objects or devices. We could charge per click … which is kind of another concept that certainly is of interest to our more forward-thinking customers. We've done a lot of work in looking at the concept of digital communities and “smart cities” and how a telco or multi-service operator would monetize or provide service to these smart communities, and the smart homes and smart devices within the communities.
It's a fairly broad portfolio and market of opportunity that we have, but our primary, underlying driver, which allows us to provide a cost-effective solution to our customers at these sorts of scale points, is this underlying, distributed Grid platform that really allows you to bring the utilization of your server infrastructure up to a massive scale: from your traditional 10 percent up to 80 or 90 percent and run it hot, [with automatic failover]. There's basically zero downtime in that scenario. If you try and build these sorts of extremely large systems using the traditional three-tier architecture approaches with hardware- based clustering and that kind of stuff, you just get this ridiculously expensive server and network infrastructure cost associated with that scale point. We try to bring that down to the application platform level, where every piece of software that's deployed on the platform has inherently high availability and linear scalability. You can scale both throughput and processing linearly, it's distributed across a WAN, it has security of messaging across the WAN — all of that is inherent in the platform so that any software application or component that you drop on top of that platform has those qualities provided to it for free. And then you can connect it to a device and bill for it, so you have the business ecosystem that is required around that, as well.
Gt: Can you speak about what markets you're targeting for Majitek's solutions?
CUMMING: In terms of the markets and the sorts of people we're selling this stuff to, I guess … anyone who is exposing a back-office piece of functionality over the Web, and who has a very large customer base, is going to need high availability, high throughput and will need to be able to scale cost effectively. Those sorts of customers are going to be new media, telco, anyone who is running an ISP, finance, banking, etc. All of these [types of businesses] are providing traditional services (via software applications) to a much larger number of people because they're connecting via the Web rather than having only their internal staff access something.
E-banking is one example, where they realized that they need to make a function that typically would be accessed by 20,000 tellers in banks to scale up to 3 or 4 or 5 million customers directly via the Web. … To enable them to scale their infrastructures to deal with the peaks and spikes associated with this model is extremely expensive using traditional three-tier application environments, so you tend to want to use a more distributed, more dynamic load distribution architecture that lends itself to what we classify as a Grid application platform. We're able to distribute load dynamically, where the entire application runs virtualized across an entire grid of computers, as opposed to a traditional grid, where you might have a master worker and you farm things out from a central point. [In our platform] every CPU within the grid is live and running in realtime, and is available to any one of the service components that is deployed on it.
Gt: How are you doing in attracting customers? Do you have a nice number on board?
CUMMING: We've been in R&D since 2000-01, and over the last year and a half we've been actively out in the market selling the product, primarily in the APAC region because that (Melbourne, Australia) is where we're based. We have another office in Singapore and a small point of presence in the U.S., too, but that hasn't been our primary focus so far. We've got a reasonable number of customers at the moment; they're mid-range and a couple of blue chips. We find that we get inside some of these organizations and it just grows because once people are sold on the fact that this platform works, they're like, “OK, let's put everything we've got onto it and we'll get these enormous cost benefits out of it.” As a result, we've got a small number of “big dip” customers at the moment, and it's been really positive, to be honest. The proof is in the pudding once you show people how it runs. They get quite excited about it.
Gt: Do you see the future of Grid computing heading down your path of Grid application platforms, extreme transaction processing, etc.?
CUMMING: It's interesting. I've been reading some of the articles that have been put out recently around the term “Grid” and use of the term “Grid,” and one of the things we probably struggle with is attempting to define the name of what we are in the market. You could say it's a virtualized application platform, it could be a distributed application server … we kind of run with the terminology Gartner has put out there (Grid application platform). We really believe that people want to apply the benefits of pooling and sharing resource infrastructure, which is kind of the concept of virtualization, but they also want to get this performance capability that comes from parallelization of tasks, and that lends itself to Grid computing.
The major vendors — IBM, BEA, Oracle and those guys — are all pursuing a virtualization strategy. Some of them — Oracle, specifically — have gone out there and said, “This is a grid,” and named one of their layers as “Grid Control.” I think these guys are bumping around in the same market space, where so many people have claimed that something is “Grid” or something is virtualized and have muddied the waters somewhat. Even the term “service-oriented architecture” is being thrown around everywhere in a marketing sense. Where we see the concept of Grid computing going is to take the concept of parallelization and combine it with the concept of virtualization and then bring it into a generalized application or platform environment that makes it as easy for an IT administrator to deploy their apps or services onto this platform as it is to deploy Tomcat — although I wouldn't say deploying some of the current application servers is particularly easy, especially when you do it in a distributed sense.
We're focused on trying to make our platform simple to use, simple to administer, and simple to develop applications and put them on top of it. If it's easy to get the benefits of the Grid and the virtualization in that same environment, that's where we're focusing and driving. I would hope there is some direction moving toward that, and we do see a lot of indicators with people wanting to move down these pathways.
Gt: Do you see any specific vendors as competitors in this market?
CUMMING: In the APAC region, we really don't go up against companies per se. There is a comparitive architectural approach to the way we build our platform in the GigaSpaces offering, although we see those guys probably more focused in the JavaSpaces or distributed data space, whereas we're more of an application platform. We see them probably moving down that pathway, as well, but we've never gone head-to-head with those guys in a customer relation. Appistry kind of says the same thing about what their product does, and the GridServer product from DataSynapse seems to do the same sorts of things that we do, but those guys seems to be having a lot of success in doing like an application virtualization extension to, say, BEA. They've got GridServer, and then they've got an app server product, which seems to be batch up model application server instances and coordinate them, which is similar to the virtualization strategy IBM is taking with WebSphere XD. I think BEA is building its own virtualized layer, [as well]. All these guys seem to be heading down this pathway, but the DataSynapse guys are probably the closest competitor, along with GigaSpaces and maybe Appistry.
Gt: What kind of adoption rate do you see for companies who would stand to benefit from your solutions or similar solutions? What's the market like?
CUMMING: I think it's very emergent, our particular piece of this market, but if you look at the enterprise application server in market, it's about $5 billion per annum. IDC and Gartner will tell you different numbers, but it's a multi- billion-dollar per year market. There is a general shift, as technology and the underlying requirements of the customers lend themselves more to lower costs, scalability, dynamism, etc. The architectural shift is moving toward this virtualized and then parallelized requirement, so we would see that offerings such as ours will get more airtime as traditional application platforms hit the wall or the glass ceiling in the way they'll scale or perform.
I think, also, that one of the things we're seeing in telco and new media is that Google is just kicking everyone's ass, and they're doing so because they have an unbelievable underlying architecture, which is based on distributed systems and Grid computing, to just drive down the cost of how they can deploy new services into the market and manage them centrally. So, anyone who is a telco or new media company and wants to run multiple apps or services, or who wants to be an ISP and run them for other people, almost have to look at these types of architectures because they're just proven time and time again by Yahoo! and eBay and Google.
We've kind of seen the successes of those companies and driven off their technology base, kind of filtering down into the enterprise market, and the enterprise guy is going, “Geez, you know what? Maybe Google wouldn't build their application this way. They'd use a grid or a distributed architecture,” so they're more willing to investigate alternatives to the standard offerings.
We're always going to be fighting against the “no one ever gets sacked for buying Oracle” mentality in the enterprise, but there are companies out there who are hitting the wall — and are doing so pretty quickly — or they've had a disastrous experience with some existing technology, and so they're willing to have a try with something new. Once you get it in there … they're not willing to go back.
Of course, we also work side-by-side with the major vendors, as we're an additive technology. Within an enterprise architecture there are going to be certain hotspots where you're going to need these qualities, and that's where we fit. We play very happily beside all the other vendors who are in the mix.
Gt: What's on tap for Majitek in terms customers, partners, products, etc.?
CUMMING: From a product perspective, our marquee product, GridSystem, is the driving force behind all of our development; the CloudSystem and its sister products illustrate some of the more vertical application capabilities we're building on top of that platform. We have a number of different, more specific requirements that see from our customers that we are building as extensions or models on top of that platform. So, that's the future direction: the underlying platform will always get more features, but there will be certain, specific requirements that some customers will require and we'll build specifications on top of that.
From a customer perspective, we've had some great successes over the last year or so, and so we're getting a lot of interest from, basically, the halo effect around those successes in the APAC region. We're building up our sales and marketing capabilities as a company and are getting much more focused on getting out into the market and selling. That's kind of a natural extension of a company that's moved beyond its inception stage.
We had predicted three years ago, and I think we were way ahead of the market, that some of those concepts I was telling you about earlier where you've got a device as a service or you're actually selling the use of that device as a service [would begin to take off]. There are much more sophisticated business models, but I think we're seeing more and more commercial operations asking us whether they could apply that within their businesses. So, I think on the commercial side, we'll probably start to see some of those more horizon business models coming out. We'd be happy to sell some interesting telco-style solutions toward the end of this year.
To learn more about Majitek, see www.majitek.com.