Singapore to offer commercial grid computing

From 1 November, three government-appointed service providers will make computing services over the grid available to businesses in Singapore and Asia

Businesses in Asia will soon be able to draw on commercial, pay-per-use grid-computing services, as part of a government-driven initiative to promote grid adoption for purposes beyond research.

The three service-provider groups appointed by Singapore's Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) will activate on-demand access to computing power and software applications, as well as storage and archiving, from 1 November, the companies told ZDNet Asia.

First announced in 2007, the National Grid is expected to appeal particularly to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), as it reduces the need for upfront capital investment.

The biggest of the three providers, a consortium led by Singapore Computer Systems (SCS) and HP, officially launched its collaborative effort on Wednesday.

In a media briefing, the companies said the new grid-computing platform, Alatum, will go to market with 20 partners, including Citrix, Haley, IBM WebSphere Commerce, Microsoft, Red Hat and Salesforce.com.

Apart from on-demand applications, such as CRM (customer-relationship management), e-commerce, ERP (enterprise resource planning) and business management, the partnership will also offer 2,400 cores and 16TB of storage.

Alvin Kok, an executive vice president at SCS, said the monthly subscription for the services and applications will range between S$18 (£7.45) and S$1,500 (£621) per user. The consortium has three local and regional launch customers, and aims to have 700 customers on board within three years, said Kok.

Leslie Ong, general manager of sales for HP's technology solutions group in Singapore, said SCS and HP have invested up to S$20m in the initiative. The consortium is also looking to invest in an additional 1,000 cores and 9TB of storage within the next 12 months.

Alatum, said HP, is possibly the biggest computing grid in Singapore. University grids typically have a small cluster of eight to 10 CPUs, while Alatum has 300.

SCS's Kok noted that the commercial grid-computing platform provides a high-value proposition to enterprises, particularly in the current economic climate, which makes it timely for companies to evaluate "how they do business".

HP's Ong noted that HP launched its own utility computing service in the island state five years ago, but said it "is very much different" from Alatum. The earlier initiative, he explained, was "quite successful", enabling customers to pay for infrastructure located in their premises on a utility basis. Alatum customers, on the other hand, do not have to manage any IT infrastructure.

A second consortium, nGrid, led by NewMedia Express, will offer, on a pay-per-use basis, applications such as Microsoft Office, virtualisation, ERP, remote managed backup, web-content management and remote content publishing. According to Alan Woo, director of NewMedia Express, the services are priced from S$10 monthly, per user.

In an email, Woo said the consortium, which includes Fujitsu Asia, Microsoft and 1-Net Singapore, is aiming to add 50 to 100 new customers a month.

"Our target audience is mainly the SoHo [small office, home office] and [SME] — a majority group of users that do not have a complete IT infrastructure," he noted, adding that such users typically host a standalone server at home or in a datacentre that has no firewall security, daily backup or high-availability capabilities.

Woo said that, in the future, nGrid plans to add new services relevant to SMEs, such as VoIP, call-centre management, digital media streaming, content management and video or 3D rendering.

The third service provider — PTC System — will provide storage-as-a-service as part of Singapore's commercial grid initiative, pricing its service at S$1 for each gigabyte of storage, per month.

In an email interview, PTC System's managing director, SS Lim, said that the company will allocate more than 12TB of storage for the service and will scale that over time.

PTC System had earlier said that its service would be offered to research institutions at launch and only commercially in 2009. Lim confirmed to ZDNet Asia on Wednesday that there would be no change to the schedule, but added that the company is working to offer the services commercially "as soon as possible".

The IDA said in June that the government would help generate up to 40 percent of the demand for the grid services, but the authority, which oversees the government's IT deployments, has, to date, not confirmed any public-sector take-up.

Alatum representatives said on Wednesday that the consortium is "in talks" with some government agencies on adoption, while PTC System's Lim said the company is "working with the IDA" to use the storage space to host data for biomedical research.

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