Grids are Dead! Or are they?

By By Wolfgang Gentzsch, DEISA; Duke University

June 16, 2008

It looks like we have to say goodbye to our good, old grids of the past — at least to all those beautiful features and capabilities envisioned 10 years ago, when grids were supposed to evolve toward coordinated resource sharing and problem solving in dynamic, multi-institutional virtual organizations, and even to extend beyond their scientific scope. This is a great vision, but it is becoming more and more obvious that in order to make it happen, we need much more time and effort than originally anticipated.

During the past 10 years, we have seen hundreds of grid projects come and go, passing away after government funding ran dry. Most of these projects did not have a realistic (nor pragmatic) sustainability strategy, let alone viable business and operational models for their infrastructures, tools, applications and services, or their intended users. Often, the only asset left after the project was the hands-on grid expertise of the project partners, which certainly is highly valuable but in and of itself does not justify all the effort and funding.

I’m sorry to say it, but, so far, grids have not kept their promise. We are stuck with grids in Gartner’s “Trough of Disillusionment.”

But maybe I am too pessimistic, or too impatient. Maybe grids by their very nature are so complex to design, build and maintain, and applications are so cumbersome to grid-enable and run, that it will take another 10 years of trial and error (and re-writing grid middleware?) to find the right path through the labyrinth of coming and going technologies and paradigms — utility computing, autonomic computing, ASP, SOA, SOI, SaaS, PaaS, HaaS, outsourcing, hosting, virtualization, Web 2.0, mashups … you name it. And just when we think we finally got it right, the technology, and even the cultural landscape, changes again.

So, here’s the problem, built in: many of our grids (architecture, technology) are simply so complex that it is almost impossible to adjust them fast enough to take into account the ever-changing IT landscape. Remember, five years ago, the transition from the proprietary grid middleware stacks to service-oriented architectures, and then to include Web services? This killed many grid projects (e.g., UK e-Science projects) — literally about $100 million worth — in the midst of their learning and development curve. Was it worth this $100 million? Do we really have better (in the sense of interoperable, user-friendly, flexible, dynamic, etc.) grid middleware today? Looking at Web services, for example, do we really have to expose all the details of the infrastructure to the user, for the benefit of largest-possible flexibility, which then is left to the user? Isn’t this kind of explicit flexibility the actual reason for an exponential increase in effort to adjust our grid systems to always-changing technologies and strategies?

And what about cloud computing? Clouds are easier to deploy, more user-friendly, more service-oriented, and more on-demand. Still, if clouds want to replace grids, they will face challenges similar to those that grids experienced. Even with simple clouds (like Amazon’s EC2), challenges arise when it comes to reputation and trust. Who trusts what really happens with/to your application and data, behind the portal, within the Amazon or Google clouds? Many of the grid showstoppers we discussed for a long time, they exist for clouds, too; but why are they not being discussed with as much passion this time around? Perhaps because our common sense tells us companies like Amazon and Google are not going to risk their reputations and destroy a potentially big business.

When we think of grids, we immediately think of networks, resources and middleware, in all their wonderful details. When we think of clouds, we think of an elastic service for remote computing and storage — simple, user-friendly, delivered at your fingertips. William Fellows, principal analyst at The 451 Group, says “clouds are grids done properly,” which comes close to the common thinking today. A bit closer to reality (and more in the context of grids), today’s clouds (a la Amazon) are service nodes sitting on the Internet, which tomorrow can become compute and storage nodes in your grid for simple tasks of your application workflow. Clouds can be a very useful utility that you can plug into your grid. Fellows calls them the “Third Way,” a flexible option that can sit between your in-house infrastructure services on one hand and the complete outsourcing model on the other hand: “Utility 2.0.”

But these clouds are not (yet?) ready for a full-blown, complex grid-enabled application workflow, which you usually find in enterprises and computational science today, and perhaps they never will be. Even a single grid service running in a cloud image (or using a service in the cloud) will very quickly face many of the roadblocks we know from grids today.

Concerning cloud computing, the real innovators to me are not Amazon and Google (sorry), who have tons of resources sitting idle in their datacenters while, at the same time, the community is thinking about new ways of doing computing. For me, the real innovator was Sun when, in 2004, it truly built its Sun Grid from scratch, based on the vision that “the network is the computer.” As with other technology trailblazers, however, Sun paid a high price for being first and doing all the experiments and evangelization — but its reputation as an innovator is here to stay. Sun Grid’s successor,, is very popular among its few die-hard clients. This is not only because it is an easy-to use technology, but especially because of its innovative early users (such as CDO2), and because of the instant support users get from the Sun team.

A similar promising example is DEISA (Distributed European Infrastructure for Supercomputing Applications) with its DECI (DEISA Extreme Computing Initiative). Why is DECI so successful in offering millions of supercomputing cycles to the European e-Science community? There are several reasons, in my opinion:

  • DEISA has a very targeted focus on specific (long-running) supercomputing applications, with most of the applications just running on one best-suited system.
  • It offers user-friendly access (through technology like DESHL and UNICORE).
  • It stays away from those more ambitious general-purpose grid efforts.
  • Its coordinating function leaves the consortium partners (the European supercomputer centers) fully independent; and
  • Application experts (similar to help the users with porting their applications to the DEISA infrastructure.

If all this is here to stay, and the currently funded activities will be taken over by the individual supercomputer centers, DEISA will have a good chance to exist for a long time, even after the funding runs dry. Then we might end up with a DEISA cloud, which will become an external HPC node within your grid application workflow.

So what is needed to make grids successful? From what we learned from the recent past, we should lower our expectations in the first place. Then, we need to rethink most of our grid architectures, which often can’t match the architectures of large software projects in industry. The goal should be to reduce complexity dramatically — complexity in the middleware, services, access for the user, and in the claim for universality. We need to focus on specific e-infrastructures for well-suited applications, specific application areas, targeted communities, etc. When building larger, more general grids, we might think of a grid of grids, a hierarchy that leaves as much independence as possible for the smaller grids (or grid project partners), leaves the coordinating functions to the overarching grid, and, thus, bypasses the mental, social, and political barriers that usually arise through direct integration. In that way, the European Grid Initiative (EGI), for example, might have a chance; if the 38 National Grid Initiatives (NGI) agree on which grid layer in the hierarchy is doing what.

But what if the grids operated by the NGIs are not sustainable? Combining 38 complex things does not easily lead to simplicity and allow a cloud-like overlay. A good question for EGI (and certainly for OGF, as well): How simple would it be to have the NGIs wrap their grids as clouds, federating these clouds into a European “cloud of clouds” metasystem?

The good news is that clouds will help grids to survive. They teach grids that in order to be widely accepted and thus sustainable, they have to be simple, user-friendly, service-oriented, scalable, on-demand, SLA-driven, with simple APIs, and so on — just like clouds.

Clouds will become dynamic components of enterprise and research grids, adding an “external” dimension of business flexibility by enhancing their home capacity whenever needed, on demand. Existing businesses will use them for their peak demands and for new projects; service providers will host their applications on them and provide software-as-a-service; and start-ups will integrate them in their offerings without the need to buy resources upfront. Setting up new Web 2.0 communities will become very easy.

With this sea change ahead of us, there will be a continuous strategic importance for businesses and sciences to support the work of the Open Grid Forum (OGF) because only standards will enable the easy building of e-infrastructures from many different components and the transition toward an agile platform for a wide variety of services. Standards developed in OGF guarantee interoperation of components best suited for your infrastructure and your application, and thus reduce dependency from proprietary building blocks, keep costs under control and increase business flexibility.

What all of this means is that grids will not disappear; they will only get cloudier, making up a bright future for ICT. Concerning the naming, I suggest a cloudy grid is still a grid, as a cloudy day is still a day.

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!

Penguin Computing Brings Cascade Lake-AP to OCP Form Factor

July 7, 2020

Penguin Computing, a subsidiary of SMART Global Holdings, Inc., is announcing a new Tundra server, Tundra AP, that is the first to implement the Intel Xeon Scalable 9200 series processors (codenamed Cascade Lake-AP) in t Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Cloud Debuts 16-GPU Ampere A100 Instances

July 7, 2020

On the heels of the Nvidia's Ampere A100 GPU launch in May, Google Cloud is announcing alpha availability of the A100 "Accelerator Optimized" VM A2 instance family on Google Compute Engine. The instances are powered by t Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Q&A: HLRS’s Bastian Koller Tackles HPC and Industry in Germany and Europe

July 6, 2020

HPCwire: Let's start with HLRS and work our way up to the European scale. HLRS has stood out in the HPC world for its support of both scientific and industrial research. Can you discuss key developments in recent years? Read more…

By Steve Conway, Hyperion

The Barcelona Supercomputing Center Offers a Virtual Tour of Its MareNostrum Supercomputer

July 6, 2020

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to threaten the world and disrupt normal operations, facility tours remain a little difficult to operate, with many supercomputing centers having shuttered facility tours for visitor Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

What’s New in Computing vs. COVID-19: Fugaku, Congress, De Novo Design & More

July 2, 2020

Supercomputing, big data and artificial intelligence are crucial tools in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Around the world, researchers, corporations and governments are urgently devoting their computing reso Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

AWS Solution Channel

Maxar Builds HPC on AWS to Deliver Forecasts 58% Faster Than Weather Supercomputer

When weather threatens drilling rigs, refineries, and other energy facilities, oil and gas companies want to move fast to protect personnel and equipment. And for firms that trade commodity shares in oil, precious metals, crops, and livestock, the weather can significantly impact their buy-sell decisions. Read more…

Intel® HPC + AI Pavilion

Supercomputing the Pandemic: Scientific Community Tackles COVID-19 from Multiple Perspectives

Since their inception, supercomputers have taken on the biggest, most complex, and most data-intensive computing challenges—from confirming Einstein’s theories about gravitational waves to predicting the impacts of climate change. Read more…

OpenPOWER Reboot – New Director, New Silicon Partners, Leveraging Linux Foundation Connections

July 2, 2020

Earlier this week the OpenPOWER Foundation announced the contribution of IBM’s A21 Power processor core design to the open source community. Roughly this time last year, IBM announced open sourcing its Power instructio Read more…

By John Russell

Google Cloud Debuts 16-GPU Ampere A100 Instances

July 7, 2020

On the heels of the Nvidia's Ampere A100 GPU launch in May, Google Cloud is announcing alpha availability of the A100 "Accelerator Optimized" VM A2 instance fam Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Q&A: HLRS’s Bastian Koller Tackles HPC and Industry in Germany and Europe

July 6, 2020

HPCwire: Let's start with HLRS and work our way up to the European scale. HLRS has stood out in the HPC world for its support of both scientific and industrial Read more…

By Steve Conway, Hyperion

OpenPOWER Reboot – New Director, New Silicon Partners, Leveraging Linux Foundation Connections

July 2, 2020

Earlier this week the OpenPOWER Foundation announced the contribution of IBM’s A21 Power processor core design to the open source community. Roughly this time Read more…

By John Russell

Hyperion Forecast – Headwinds in 2020 Won’t Stifle Cloud HPC Adoption or Arm’s Rise

June 30, 2020

The semiannual taking of HPC’s pulse by Hyperion Research – late fall at SC and early summer at ISC – is a much-watched indicator of things come. This yea Read more…

By John Russell

Racism and HPC: a Special Podcast

June 29, 2020

Promoting greater diversity in HPC is a much-discussed goal and ostensibly a long-sought goal in HPC. Yet it seems clear HPC is far from achieving this goal. Re Read more…

Top500 Trends: Movement on Top, but Record Low Turnover

June 25, 2020

The 55th installment of the Top500 list saw strong activity in the leadership segment with four new systems in the top ten and a crowning achievement from the f Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ISC 2020 Keynote: Hope for the Future, Praise for Fugaku and HPC’s Pandemic Response

June 24, 2020

In stark contrast to past years Thomas Sterling’s ISC20 keynote today struck a more somber note with the COVID-19 pandemic as the central character in Sterling’s annual review of worldwide trends in HPC. Better known for his engaging manner and occasional willingness to poke prickly egos, Sterling instead strode through the numbing statistics associated... Read more…

By John Russell

ISC 2020’s Student Cluster Competition Winners Announced

June 24, 2020

Normally, the Student Cluster Competition involves teams of students building real computing clusters on the show floors of major supercomputer conferences and Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Supercomputer Modeling Tests How COVID-19 Spreads in Grocery Stores

April 8, 2020

In the COVID-19 era, many people are treating simple activities like getting gas or groceries with caution as they try to heed social distancing mandates and protect their own health. Still, significant uncertainty surrounds the relative risk of different activities, and conflicting information is prevalent. A team of Finnish researchers set out to address some of these uncertainties by... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Turns Its Massive Crowdsourced Computer Network Against COVID-19

March 16, 2020

For gamers, fighting against a global crisis is usually pure fantasy – but now, it’s looking more like a reality. As supercomputers around the world spin up Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Rallies a Legion of Computers Against the Coronavirus

March 24, 2020

Last week, we highlighted [email protected], a massive, crowdsourced computer network that has turned its resources against the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe – but [email protected] isn’t the only game in town. The internet is buzzing with crowdsourced computing... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Global Supercomputing Is Mobilizing Against COVID-19

March 12, 2020

Tech has been taking some heavy losses from the coronavirus pandemic. Global supply chains have been disrupted, virtually every major tech conference taking place over the next few months has been canceled... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Supercomputer Simulations Reveal the Fate of the Neanderthals

May 25, 2020

For hundreds of thousands of years, neanderthals roamed the planet, eventually (almost 50,000 years ago) giving way to homo sapiens, which quickly became the do Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

DoE Expands on Role of COVID-19 Supercomputing Consortium

March 25, 2020

After announcing the launch of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium on Sunday, the Department of Energy yesterday provided more details on its sco Read more…

By John Russell

Steve Scott Lays Out HPE-Cray Blended Product Roadmap

March 11, 2020

Last week, the day before the El Capitan processor disclosures were made at HPE's new headquarters in San Jose, Steve Scott (CTO for HPC & AI at HPE, and former Cray CTO) was on-hand at the Rice Oil & Gas HPC conference in Houston. He was there to discuss the HPE-Cray transition and blended roadmap, as well as his favorite topic, Cray's eighth-gen networking technology, Slingshot. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Honeywell’s Big Bet on Trapped Ion Quantum Computing

April 7, 2020

Honeywell doesn’t spring to mind when thinking of quantum computing pioneers, but a decade ago the high-tech conglomerate better known for its control systems waded deliberately into the then calmer quantum computing (QC) waters. Fast forward to March when Honeywell announced plans to introduce an ion trap-based quantum computer whose ‘performance’ would... Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers


Neocortex Will Be First-of-Its-Kind 800,000-Core AI Supercomputer

June 9, 2020

Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC - a joint research organization of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh) has won a $5 million award Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

‘Billion Molecules Against COVID-19’ Challenge to Launch with Massive Supercomputing Support

April 22, 2020

Around the world, supercomputing centers have spun up and opened their doors for COVID-19 research in what may be the most unified supercomputing effort in hist Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Nvidia’s Ampere A100 GPU: Up to 2.5X the HPC, 20X the AI

May 14, 2020

Nvidia's first Ampere-based graphics card, the A100 GPU, packs a whopping 54 billion transistors on 826mm2 of silicon, making it the world's largest seven-nanom Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Australian Researchers Break All-Time Internet Speed Record

May 26, 2020

If you’ve been stuck at home for the last few months, you’ve probably become more attuned to the quality (or lack thereof) of your internet connection. Even Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

By Doug Black

15 Slides on Programming Aurora and Exascale Systems

May 7, 2020

Sometime in 2021, Aurora, the first planned U.S. exascale system, is scheduled to be fired up at Argonne National Laboratory. Cray (now HPE) and Intel are the k Read more…

By John Russell

Summit Supercomputer is Already Making its Mark on Science

September 20, 2018

Summit, now the fastest supercomputer in the world, is quickly making its mark in science – five of the six finalists just announced for the prestigious 2018 Read more…

By John Russell

TACC Supercomputers Run Simulations Illuminating COVID-19, DNA Replication

March 19, 2020

As supercomputers around the world spin up to combat the coronavirus, the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) is announcing results that may help to illumina Read more…

By Staff report

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