DEVWORKS: IBM touts grid computing vision

Grid computing, the notion of linking computers across the Internet for single applications, was touted as the next evolution of computing by IBM's Irving Wladawsky-Berger, vice president of the company's technology and strategy group, during a keynote speech at the developerWorks Live conference here Thursday.

Emphasizing a need to conceal technology complexity, Wladawsky-Berger said IBM's challenge was to make computing "boring" by hiding these complexities. But the Internet, while enabling development of a digital economy, has only grown more complex in the process, he said. The industry, he said, needs "to go to the next stage of the Internet, and the next stage of the Internet is to turn into a computing platform."

IBM is calling this conversion of the Internet into a usable, distributed platform grid computing, Wladawsky-Berger said. Key to the grid effort is providing developers with services to access Internet resources, he said.

"The grid value proposition is we will virtualize the infrastructure. We will put together a layer of service request interfaces, and you, the application developers, just deal with this layer and then leave it to us to manage the requests, to find what you want and do all that working across the Internet," Wladawsky-Berger said.

"It's because of our ability to virtualize requests for Web pages that the World Wide Web has become so successful," said Wladawsky-Berger. "We now want to do the same for everything else out there."

Vendors will need to unite to provide unified access mechanisms for Internet resources, he said. "Every vendor does things differently. The only way to make this work across the Internet is everybody does it the same way," Wladawsky-Berger said.

The grid community, he said, has developed a set of protocols to access services such as identity and security and finding both computer power and databases, said Wladawsky-Berger.

IBM has been working with the grid community on protocols for commercial usage and has delivered its Open Grid Services Architecture, he said. The architecture utilizes Web services protocols such as XML and WSDL (Web Services Description Language) to express content, SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) to ship messages, and UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration) for directories. IBM plans to eventually deploy this architecture in products such as its WebSphere Web application platform and DB2 database, after it first appears on the company's alphaWorks developer site next year.

Wladawsky-Berger cited examples of grid computing such as an effort in the United Kingdom to link supercomputing centers across the country. A scientist in the United Kingdom using the grid does not need to be concerned about whether the computer being accessed is in Cambridge, Oxford, or elsewhere, Wladawsky-Berger said. "You just deal with the grid," he said.

Also cited was the National Digital Mammographic Archive project IBM been working on with the University of Pennsylvania. Mammograms can be analyzed and accessed across the country, Wladawsky-Berger said. "Over time, it will become a production application available to all hospitals in North America" and perhaps the world, he said. "This is one of the great promises of grid computing."

Critical to grid computing will be more self-managing systems, according to Wladawsky-Berger. "Our intent now is to take these automated algorithms and move them across the infrastructure [and] leverage grid protocols to start leveraging more autonomic capabilities that work across a heterogeneous system," Wladawsky-Berger said.

"The Internet's main challenge is to make the technology disappear behind the woodwork," he said. "This is a grand challenge, but working together as an industry, this is where we are all headed."

A show attendee agreed that cooperation amongst software and hardware vendors was critical.

"I'm sure there's going to be challenges. Part of it is getting [vendors] to work together. I'm sure it's going to be more than just IBM" working on grid computing, said Keith Getschel, a senior systems programmer at the Stain Paul Companies insurance company in Saint Paul, Minn.

Grid computing, Getschel said, is "a very interesting story."

"It fits with the model of the way the Internet was built. It is kind of the next leap," Getschel said.

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