Grid pioneers launch company

The creators of the Globus open source grid software formally launched software and services company Univa on Monday with the hopes of capitalizing on their work on grid computing.

The premier product line for the privately-held Elmhurst, Illinois, company is based on the Globus Toolkit. The open source Globus grid software already serves as one of the primary building blocks for a number of commercial grid products, as well as for academic supercomputing projects, including the TeraGrid, linking thousands of computers at several university supercomputing sites.

The aim of the Globus Toolkit technology is to allow users to securely share computational power, databases and tools online across networks worldwide while maintaining local control.

The first products offered by Univa are expected to hit the market in 2005 and will be enhanced versions of the Globus software for enterprise customers based on Globus Toolkit release 4, according to Chief Operating Officer Rich Miller.

The company has already begun offering technical support and professional services aimed at enterprise customers, large IT vendors and systems integrators, and has secured its first customer. "We can't name the customer at the moment but it's a major player who is utilizing the technology for sales to the government market," Miller said.

Univa's cofounders are Chief Executive Officer Steve Tuecke, Chief Scientist Carl Kesselman and Chief Open-Source Strategist Ian Foster (credited with creating the term "grid" in the 1990s), the same group that launched the Globus Project in 1995.

The Univa executive team is currently rounded out by Miller, who was involved in the commercial adoption of electronic mail, and Vice President of Operations and Finance Bob Mandel, who has spent the past 20 years working in corporate finance and operations in the IT field. Two additional people are coming on board shortly, according to Miller.

The computing industry has recently been folding grid computing technology into their businesses, with large vendors such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle and Sun Microsystems incorporating the technology to meet fluctuating business demands for resources. IBM and SAP in particular have actively retrofitted the Globus Toolkit with their mainstream business computing technology products.

Kesselman, Foster and Tuecke were inspired to start their business after German applications vendor SAP early this year demonstrated to them how it was using Globus. By May Kesselman, director of the Center for Grid Technologies at the University of Southern California School of Engineering; Foster, a professor of computer science at Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago; and Tuecke, who left his position as a software architect at Argonne, had made Univa a full-time concern.

"SAP was showing us the less obvious things, which they later publically demonstrated at (SAP's) TechEd in October, of how Globus can be used as a basis for more traditional back-end applications, for how the application interacts with the underlying infrastructure," Tuecke said. "When we saw that -- the potential of Globus as the layer, or glue -- it was the straw that broke the camel's back and put us over the top."

One of the things SAP demonstrated at TechEd in San Diego, for example, was how it is using advanced search engine technologies, grid computing and other technologies to boost response times of queries in its NetWeaver middleware and integration stack by as much a thousandfold.

Industries such as such as telecommunications, financial services and transportation could all benefit from the middleware technologies for security, information infrastructure, execution management, data management, communication, fault detection and portability that grid computing in general and Univa in particular have to offer, Miller said.

Any company that has a fairly large scale IT infrastructure that is utilized on a periodic basis would be a good candidate for grid computing, according to Charles King, president and principal analyst at Pund-IT. "As companies start devoting more and more effort to doing vertical design, grid is a natural space for that," King said.

According to King, Univa has the expertise side sewn up and with Globus they have strength on the product side. "They've got believability in spades," King said. "The question mark is how they are going to introduce themselves to the customers that they are going to need to survive financially, and that's where partnerships become important."

Univa sees both IBM and SAP as potential customers and "partners, hopefully," Miller said. The company has "been in conversation with SAP and a lot of mutual good will has built up," Miller said.

Both Tuecke and Miller see Univa's partnerships as one of the most important aspects to the company's success. "A great deal of our business will be done though our channel partners and we are now in the process of establishing those channels," Miller said. He declined to name any current partners.

As Tuecke pointed out, there are numerous flavors when it comes to grid computing.

"It is fruitless to get into food fights about the definition of grid," Tuecke said. "We'll just talk about Globus, our strengths and what we can provide and avoid the food fights were we can."

Just what grid computing is won't be answered until there are standard protocols, Tuecke said, though great progress has been made in that area in the past year, particularly in the area of Web services. "Things are evolving quickly on that front."

"We are the commercial support for companies looking to take advantage of the open standards for grid computing," Tuecke said. "For those interested in avoiding vendor lock in, but not going it alone."

King sees Univa as having a real sales point in that they are trying to help companies leverage their existing systems. "If you can give people a way to get more bang for the buck, it's a very good way to start a conversation."

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