3Tera powers the grid for Web apps

I have been reading a pre-release copy of Nick Carr's forthcoming (January 2008) book, "The Big Switch: Our New Digital Destiny." He makes a clear case that computing resources distributed via vast grids will transform economics, business and culture in the 21st century just as electric utilities did in the last century.

I have been reading a pre-release copy of Nick Carr's forthcoming (January 2008) book, "The Big Switch: Our New Digital Destiny." He makes a clear case that computing resources distributed via vast grids will transform economics, business and culture in the 21st century just as electric utilities did in the last century. Sun's $1-per-CPU hour and Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud are harbingers of the utility computing future.

I recently met with 3Tera, a company with a grid operating system that also lends credence to Carr's Big Switch.

3Tera's AppLogic is designed for running and scaling Web-based applications on commodity Linux servers (Solaris is in the works). The company just released AppLogic 2.1, which adds to application monitoring and support for multiple CPUs per appliance. In addition, Emergent Game Technologies has included 3Tera’s AppLogic as part of its next generation online gaming platform.

Most grid technologies have been applied to specialized compute-intensive tasks, but 3Tera is targeting enterprises with transactional and I/O intensive Web applications. 3Tera has about 50 clients for its software, according to Bert Armijo, vice president of marketing and product development at 3Tera. In June, 3Tera signed up BT, the UK-based telecom giant, to support its on-demand computing services.

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AppLogic enables 'virtual private data centers,' allowing IT to define custom application infrastructures via a browser and run the apps on a grid of commodity servers. AppLogic creates virtual environments in which existing Linux code, for example, can run.

3Tera lays out the core functions of a grid OS as follows:

  • Ability to aggregate commodity servers into a single scalable grid
  • Native support for transactional and I/O intensive workloads
  • Allowing an unmodified application to run on different grids
  • Concurrent execution of multiple unrelated applications each with its own resource quota
  • Scaling applications from a fraction of a server up to the full resources of the grid
  • Supporting hardware, middleware and applications from a variety of vendors

At the core of AppLogic software is a distributed kernel that abstracts and virtualizes the hardware and provides system services. Another piece handles infrastructure for each applications and the grid controller manages the grid. With the AppLogic grid platform, the resources to run an application are assembled automatically and disposed of when the application stops.

As evidence of the linear scaling prowess of a grid system, 3Tera and hosting provider Layered Technologies achieved a UnixBench score of 42,540 on a system with 443 CPUs, 920 gigabytes of RAM and 47 terabytes of storage.

Pricing is based on memory per server, which is the limiting factor, said Armijo. The cost to run AppLogic on a server with 4 gigabytes of memory is about $1,500 per year, he said.

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