IBM, Microsoft Eye Grid Computing for Web Services

Grid Computing, once the realm of academic and scientific geeks, is suddenly attracting growing interest from commercial vendors such as IBM, Microsoft and others. Find out what they see in "Grid," and how it may change the face of data integration and web services development in the near future.

Tags: Grid, Computing, Commercialization, Working Groups, GGF, Microsoft, Tuecke,

The latest signs that Grid's stock is rising came in the wake of last month's meeting of the Global Grid Forum, Grid's international standards body and educational forum, in Edinburgh, Scotland. GGF reported a record number of vendors attended -- tripling last year's crowd.

Vendor Interest Exploding

But commercial firms did more than just pack seats and watch the proceedings from the florr. During the GGF meeting, developers unveiled plans to create new working groups focused on Java bindings for the Open Grid Services Architecture OGSA as well as support for the Microsoft/IBM-backed WS-Security standards.

Commercial interest in Grid is exploding beyond IBM, Microsoft and Java, according to GGF officials. The Java and WS-Security are just two of the 20 or so working groups that have been created in the last five months, according to GGF Executive Director Mary Spada. She called the growth in commercial interest in Grid a reflection of the greater understanding of what Grid actually is, and added that companies are sending the "heads of their computing strategies" to GGF. "What they tell us is that they have had 'Grid Computing' efforts going for some time, whether or not they called them Grid Computing."

Prior to the announcement of these commercial working groups, the most popular implementation of the OGSA specifications is the open source Globus toolkit. The latest version of the toolkit, Globus 3.0, can be downloaded here.

The "Commercialization" of Grid?

The Global Grid Forum "is definitely shifting to have much stronger vendor participation," says Steven Tuecke -- one of the OGSA architects. Tuecke is also an employee of the Argonne National Laboratory, one of the US government's leading computing research labs and a co-founder of the GGF. "The OGSA is clearly at the center of much of that activity," he adds.

IBM, Microsoft and other commercial software and Internet firms are beginning to appreciate the fact that aspects of Grid technologies could soon enable a new generation of web services and applications, Tuecke added.

There was an "overwhelming interest," Tuecke said, in creating these working groups. He added that there is already a Java implementation of the Grid Service Specification (the core specification, "on which everything else in OGSA is built," he says), and vendors like IBM and HP are clearly interested in bringing Java to the OGSA.

The idea behind Grid is simple and has roots that mirror the core concepts of distributed computing and DARPA's 1980s-era Internet architecture. There are lots of computers out there; they are not all working all the time. Grid proponents dare to ask the question: "Why not create a set of standards that allow different computers to share resources, securely, across different networks to deliver non-trivial qualities of service?" Hard core Grid boosters, in fact, talk about computing power being bought and sold like a utility between networks.

Moving Forward -- Without "Grid-Lock?"

Now that GGF working groups have been proposed by Sun, Microsoft and IBM, there are four definite "next steps," Tuecke said, for those proposing the groups.
Each constituency will need to:

  • nail down their charter,
  • set a document schedule,
  • nominate chairpersons for the working groups, and
  • present their working group plans to the Grid Forum Steering Group -- a process that normally takes a few weeks.

  • Hewlett-Packard has actually appointed a product marketing manager for Grid Computing, Sara Murphy. But despite growing commercial interest in Grid, Murphy concedes that it's still in its early days, and that the roadmap for commercial applicability remains unproven. Even as specific industries such as bioinformatics, automotive and aerospace industries send delegates and present papers, Murphy said "I had hoped to that we might see some of the applications further along."

    One flashpoint for real world applications may come with the release of the upgrade to the Grid computing toolkit from GGF, called Globus 3.0, expected to be released in alpha by year's end, with upgrades through 2003. Globus 3.0 will include tools for discovery and security protocols, support for J2SE and J2EE implementations, as well as core web services standards including WSDL and SOAP.

    See more on Grid topics at the Grid Forum .