March 19, 2007

The Circle of Life, Grid-Style

Derrick Harris

Before I get into speaking about this week’s feature, our interview with Johnson & Johnson grid star Jeff Mathers, I feel the need to comment on the latest news from the Sun Grid camp, which I believe could be the start of some positive momentum for the oft-maligned utility computing offering.

If we look past concerns about security (which would seem inevitable for any off-site utility platform), many of the complaints I’ve heard about the service being offered at revolved around how difficult and burdensome the platform actually was. After all, I can’t imagine there is much convenience in rewriting an application to run on a distributed platform using Solaris 10, specifically, even if the folks at Sun did offer a helping hand. However, with the unveiling of its Application Catalog, the Sun Grid really is offering a true service to end-users who want to eliminate the resources (time, money and personnel) required to run a high-performance infrastructure.

For users in the life sciences and manufacturing spaces, especially, offers a wide range of applications that are just waiting — already configured to run on the grid platform — for users. Which leads me to another point: It seems like a bright idea for Sun to initially target HPC-hungry vertical markets with the catalog. There is no use wasting cycles trying to obtain applications that aren’t going to see high customer demand.

I’ve been a supporter of utility computing for a while, and I’m really interested to see what happens with the Sun Grid as the catalog of ISV applications continues to grow. This time around, it actually does seem too good to be true. Of course, we all know how that saying goes …

Now, onto the interview with Jeff Mather of Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research & Development. While you might have read JJPRD’s story before, I don’t think it ever gets old, and being one of the true innovators of the production grid, Mathers’ thoughts will always hold weight. For example, his take on the current state of grid standards is particularly relevant, if you ask me, because it represents what many would presume is the prevailing feeling among big-time end-users: we simply need something that works. In the case of Mathers and J&J, that something was United Devices’ grid middleware, even though Mathers himself has been involved to some degreee with the GGF/OGF for quite a while.

Mathers also does not hesitate to talk about numbers. He cites a return on initial investment in 18 months, a significant decrease in the time needed to run certain simulation and modeling applications, which may or may not correlate with faster drug discovery times, and the need for better dashboard metrics. This is the kind of honesty we need to see from grid users if we’re ever going to see the kind of adoption rates I seem to find myself speaking about every week in this column. If done correctly, will a grid platform save me money? Yes. Will it save me time? Yes. Will it lead to faster time-to-market? Probably. Will it be perfect right off the bat? Not likely. Hey, three out four ain’t bad.

That said, I’m not holding my breath expecting to see users start coming forward and sharing their experiences with the technology. Although we try to share as many use cases and user stories as we can, my personal success rate with getting companies to discuss what they’re doing is not too impressive — I probably get shot down more often than I score — and I don’t think I’m alone. I would argue, however, that, like most things, the grid world is an ecosystem that requires participation from everyone involved if it is going flourish. Users sharing experiences means more users signing on, which means more money for vendors to develop the technology, which eventually will lead to standard technologies, and so on. To quote “The Lion King,” it’s the circle of life. I just want to thanks Mathers and JJPRD for being so forthcoming.

As for the rest of the issue, the following announcements should be of interest to a large number of readers: “‘Virtual Switch’ Flipped on CAMERA“; “LSU Triples SURA’s Computing Capacity“; “Optical-Data Network Supporting GÉANT2 Rolled Out“; “NEC Unveils HYDRAstor Grid Storage Architecture“; “IBM Adds POWER Virtualization to SOA Strategy“; and “Oracle Announces Enterprise Manager 10g Release 3.”

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