CTO says eBay to push for grid standards

eBay's CTO Paul Strong explains why eBay decided to get involved in grid standards efforts

Online seller eBay is using grid computing to deliver services to its millions of users. Paul Strong, its chief technology officer, said the biggest issue eBay faces in its grid deployment is managing a shared infrastructure across its more than 15,000 servers. Instead of managing individual servers, eBay wants its system administrators to manage aggregations of servers or tiers of a service.

Said Strong: "That's where we are going -- we are trying to create tools that allow them to visualize the infrastructure differently, and tools that automate activity." But Strong said eBay must build its tools to accomplish this, which the company would like to change. In this interview, Strong explained why eBay decided to get involved in grid standards efforts.

You are building a lot of your own tools. You can't buy them?

There are bits that we can buy. We use certain off-the-shelf components in our infrastructure but we tend to have to be our own integrator.

Based on what you have learned from your efforts, what do you think vendors have to do to help enterprises?

If I'm an enterprise, I'm not going to buy from a single vendor. My data center is inherently heterogeneous and always will be because I'm never going to put all my eggs in one basket. If we want to get grid in the data center, we need the ability to have integrated solutions. In an ideal world, I would like to be able to buy solutions off-the-shelf and not have to be my own integrator because there's a very high cost to it.

Doesn't that require a lot of cooperation on standards?

I believe so, in the long run. Obviously standards take time.

How mature are the grid standards?

From an enterprise perspective, not enough to feel that one could build software that would stay the same through time. One of the big dependencies that a big enterprise has is you can't afford to depreciate or make something obsolete next year. So, if [a vendor] comes out with a product and it has a useful interface for provisioning something, and then two years down the line you come out with an upgrade for that product, you can't suddenly say I'm going to drop support for the previous product, [or] I'm not going to allow you to use that interface anymore because we got a better interface now, because I may have built a whole lot of stuff that depends on it. That's why standards take time, because everyone wants to make sure that when they commit to a standard, they are sure its evolved enough to be stable.

Are you making any industrywide efforts to push standards development?

We're pretty much on the leading edge in many of these technologies, I think. There will be many other companies that in time follow us and end up with these scale issues. We're beginning to see that already. We believe that we are beginning to solve these problems. For the long run for eBay, we don't believe that building IT tooling and management tools is our core competency. Today it is something we have to do because we have no choice. In the long run we would rather be buying commercial off-the-shelf solutions to do that. The best way of making sure they meet our needs in the long term and minimizing the risk of adoption is to be an active participant in driving the standards that allow those integrated and interoperable solutions.

Is this a recent change for you and eBay to get involved?

Yes it is. For eBay, we haven't been active participants particularly in standards bodies. Obviously eBay is heavily recognized as a brand, a consumer brand, but in terms of a technology player we haven't done much.

What convinced you, at this point, to take this step?

I was recruited by eBay about a year ago, and there was an explicit recognition that what we were doing was grid, and we recognized that being on this path of just doing it exclusively ourselves -- it wasn't were we wanted to be. I actually work in eBay research labs, which is a group we have now that's dedicated to forward looking, two-to-five year worldview of what we're doing. That only was formed in the last 12 months. We need to make sure that the steps that we take quarterly -- we move very fast, we are deploying code to the site every two weeks -- those small steps have to be walking in a certain direction.

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