Grids moving into enterprise data centers

Mention the word "grid" and most IT executives probably think of thousands of CPUs crunching numbers for data-intensive applications such as seismic modeling and drug discovery. Increasingly, however, grids are being considered as platforms for creating more flexible, efficient data center architectures.

As the GridWorld gathering next week marks the 10th anniversary of the open source Globus Toolkit, the focus will be on the growing interest among enterprises in grid computing. At the conference, which runs Sept. 11-14 in Washington, D.C., a number of enterprise grid users, including Wachovia Bank and eBay, will talk about their use of grid technology to support next-generation data centers.

Admittedly, grid computing remains largely the purview of the scientific and academic communities. Just 15% of the expected 600 GridWorld attendees will represent enterprise buyers, according to conference organizer IDG World Expo.

The tide could be turning, however, as companies look at using grid technology, which includes monitoring, security and policy-based management, to balance workloads across commodity hardware, industry experts say.

"There is this move away from the siloed infrastructures that have been built up over the last few years," says Steve Tuecke, who co-founded the Globus Alliance - formerly the Globus Project - with Ian Foster and Carl Kesselman, and was responsible for managing the architecture, design and development of the Globus Toolkit.

That flexibility, and a resulting increase in use as workloads are spread across a pool of compute resources, is driving adoption of grid technology in data centers, analysts say. Nearly 10% of all servers sold last year ended up in a grid deployment, compared with less than 5% in 2004 and "just a handful" in 2003, says Addison Snell, research director for high performance computing at IDC.

In addition, while the bulk of deployments used to be compute grids where the focus is on speeding up number-crunching and data processing, nearly half of grid deployments today are more flexible, utilization-focused deployments.

Lehman Brothers, for example, has used grid technology in some form since the early 1990s. In recent years the financial services giant has looked at grid as the underpinning of a broader technology strategy that lays the groundwork for utility computing.

"The obvious benefit [of grid computing] is the ability to distribute huge amounts of computations over thousands of CPUs," says Thanos Mitsolides, senior vice president of Fixed Income Worldwide at Lehman Brothers in New York. "But once you have that ability to distribute computational tasks as services, you realize that you can distribute any services, not just computational services."

As a result, corporate grid computing and service-oriented architecture (SOA) seem to be maturing together, says Mark Linesch, president of the Open Grid Forum, a new standards body that resulted from the Enterprise Grid Alliance and the Global Grid Forum merging. Linesch officially will introduce the new organization during his opening keynote address at GridWorld next Monday.

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