Sun combines grid computing, Web services

Looking to harvest technologies planted in the fields of both Web services and grid computing, Sun Microsystems Inc. on Friday unveiled new grid computing wares.

The promise of grid computing is to connect a variety of systems into a virtual supercomputer capable of accessing unused resources within a network, such as processing cycles, as if the entirety of machines is one single system.

The product, Technical Compute Portal, is comprised of the iPlanet Portal, Sun's Grid Engine, and Sun ONE (Open Network Environment) -- Sun's Web services offering. Grid Engine powers grid environments, Sun ONE can be used to make data available as an asset via the Web services model, and the iPlanet Portal provides an interface to such services, according to John Tollefsrud, product manager for grid computing at Palo Alto, Calif.-based Sun.

"We have enhanced our grid computing capabilities and now we have grid computing and Services-on-Demand available," Tollesfrud said.

Sun is not the only vendor with technological seeds that are growing into Web services and grid computing efforts.

Compaq Computer Corp. and IBM Corp. both detailed plans to offer grid computing wares throughout the last several months.

Although Microsoft Corp. has pointed most of its energy toward Web services, with this week's release of Visual Studio.Net, the Redmond, Wash., giant began touting the toolbox's tricks for building smart clients that use Web services to achieve peer-to-peer scenarios. The grander vision is what Microsoft calls "participatory computing," a socialistic network in which every device contributes according to its available resources. Microsoft didn't specifically use the term grid computing when revealing its participatory computing strategy, but the two are not altogether different.

Grid computing, thus far has been used primarily in the scientific and academic communities, but Sun's Tollefsrud said that with its new solution, the company aims to change that.

"We think the action is going to be inside the enterprise," Tollefsrud said.

Brent Sleeper, an analyst at the Stencil Group, a consultancy based in San Francisco, said combining Web services with a grid is a "great idea," but there is still work needed to make it a reality.

"We'll need to move beyond today's hand-coded implementations towards a much more uniform model for implementing the Web services standards. Moreover, we need to think about services in a less endpoint-specific way," Sleeper said.

Instead, services such as clustering, load-balancing, security, and the other services typically provided by the application server today will need to be conceived as a cloud, Sleeper said.

Even though grid computing is a ways off, Sleeper continued, companies should consider the benefits.

"This early stage is a perfect time to begin thinking about the potential applications and impact on enterprise IT architecture," Sleeper said.

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