The Holy Grid cometh

The Holy Grid cometh

Summary: Ian Foster is one of rock stars (if there is such a thing) of grid computing. For the last decade, Foster-- Associate Director of the Mathematics and Computer Science Division of Argonne National Laboratory and the Arthur Holly Compton Professor of Computer Science at the University of Chicago--and his cohorts have been working on a set of software services and libraries to develop open-standard grid infrastructure and applications.

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TOPICS: Open Source
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Ian Foster is one of rock stars (if there is such a thing) of grid computing. For the last decade, Foster-- Associate Director of the ianMathematics and Computer Science Division of Argonne National Laboratory and the Arthur Holly Compton Professor of Computer Science at the University of Chicago--and his cohorts have been working on a set of software services and libraries to develop open-standard grid infrastructure and applications. In 2003, he co-founded the Globus Alliance, along with Steve Tuecke of the Distributed Systems Laboratory (DSL) at Argonne and Carl Kesselman of the University of Southern California Information Sciences Institute, to develop and support the Globus Project, an open-source software toolkit (the Globus Toolkit) for building grids. For example, with the Globus Toolkit developers can create security policies and allocate and monitor resources across thousands of servers in a grid environment.

Members of the Alliance are mostly academic institutions and government agencies who are using grids for scientific and engineering applications. In fact, grid computing to date has been used mostly for large-scale, distributed applications, such as the SETI@Home project, which harnesses about 5 million PCs in search of radio signals from deep space life forms co-inhabiting the universe with us. Grid.org taps into cycles from 2.5 million systems in more than 225 countries to deliver more than 150 teraflops of power to applications.

At the end of last year, Foster, Tuecke and Kesselman took their grid computing passion into the for-profit, commercial world with the launch of Univa. The company plans to deliver enterprise-class, commercial distributions (think Red Hat) of the Globus Toolkit, as well as consulting, training and support services. Insight Research predicts that the market for grid computing will grow from $250 million in 2003 to $4.9 billion in 2008.

Now, Foster and his mates have formed a non-profit organization, the Globus Consortium, to advance the use of the Globus Toolkit in enterprises. "We were motivated to create the Consortium because vendors are starting to rely on Globus [Toolkit] for their internal products and for selling to customers. We wanted a body that served as a source of financial support and as a user pressure group," Foster told me.

According to Foster, the Globus Consortium will guide development of the open-source Globus Toolkit implementations, encourage open standards and provide members with best practices and consulting. Founding sponsor-level members (at $250,000 per company) include IBM, Intel, Hewlett-Packard and Sun. Univa is an initial contributing companies ($35,000 per company) along with Nortel.

It sounds like the Univa needs a Globus Consortium, just as Red Hat needs the Open Source Develop Labs (OSDL), the Linux center of gravity, to ensure that standards evolve and stay open. Of course, Foster, Tuecke and Kesselman are players in the Globus Alliance, Consortium and Univa, which would be like Linus Torvalds have key positions at both OSDL and Red Hat.

The Globus Consortium isn't the only organization trying to steer the future of grid development. The Global Grid Forum (GGF) and the Enterprise Grid Alliance (EGA) in fostering commercial adoption of grid computing. The GGF is responsible for the development of the "Open Grid Service Architecture" (OGSA), an industry blueprint for open standards for grid computing. The EGA, which is composed primarily of enterprise vendors, is focused on accelerating the adoption of grid computing within enterprises through "the development and adoption of relevant technical standards, and focus on pragmatic programs to demonstrate the utility of grid computing throughout the IT industry."

It will be interesting to see if all these organizations, or factions, promoting grid computing can collaborate on defining standards and best practices. The major vendors have seats at the table at most of the organizations, and in standards bodies such as OASIS and the W3C. If they fail to play nice, the grid could be a very tangled and unwieldy...

Topic: Open Source

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