Getting a grip on grids

United Devices Inc. CEO Ed Hubbard gets his back up a bit at the suggestion that the grid computing market has yet to lose the training wheels.

"I would disagree with you," Hubbard says. "We've got two of the largest drug companies in the world [GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis] deploying today. I don't know when a market happens, but that sounds like one of the leading indicators."

An encouraging sign, perhaps, and certainly validation of the technology's practicality, but a handful of high-profile customers does not lay to rest the question of whether grid computing eventually will become ubiquitous.

Even an evangelist such as Hubbard acknowledges the business climate is unfriendly today toward anything that hasn't been around the block a few times.

"It's a very risk-averse environment right now," he says. "The last thing you want to do is screw up something royally in an environment like this."

Hubbard makes a compelling case - on paper - that going with his company is anything but screwing up. One slide in his presentation contends that a 160-node United Devices-enabled grid that would cost $40,000 can provide the same computing punch as a high-end IBM machine that goes for $2 million.

So why would anyone write that big check to Big Blue?

"That's the safe choice," Hubbard says. "[A grid] is the hero's choice, and in a risk-averse environment there are a lot less heroes than there used to be."

United Devices is certainly trying to make it easier for heroes to step up.

While its MetaProcessor Platform that lets customers create their own in-house grids remains the company's bread and butter, United Devices plans to launch a service this quarter that will let customers tap into a 7,000-node grid that was built by an as-yet-unnamed Fortune 500 company partner.

This "partner grid" is intended to attract customers who might need access to this type of supercharged computing power from time to time, but lack the wherewithal to deploy their own grid in-house. It's also designed to allay the security concerns Hubbard says have been an insurmountable obstacle for public computing grids, including the 1.7 million-device grid that United Devices operates primarily for demonstration projects and the occasional commercial job.

The partner plan sounds promising.

Training wheels do come off.

Rudy to the rescue . . . again.

The man's resum‚ begins in law enforcement and ends in politics, while he's best known for having been the resolute public face of New York after Sept. 11.

So it might come as a bit of a surprise that Rudy Guiliani has hit the top of the charts as a keynote speaker at technology-related events.

Novell will become the latest to attempt to cash in on Guiliani's cachet when it hosts a Web-based conference Oct. 16 to plug its new Nsure identity-management initiative.

"His speech, 'Leadership in Difficult Times,' will be an insightful look into the qualities that inspire confidence and success," an e-mail from Novell promises. "These same qualities are at the heart of Novell Nsure."

Some marketer must have pulled a muscle making that stretch.

The strategy is an old one, of course. Get the customer's attention with a celebrity speaker and then slip in the sales pitch while the starlight is twinkling.

But are IT buyers really that easily awed? Seems unlikely.

Of course, using Guiliani has got to be a better bet than whatever Novell's been doing these past few years.

Make a speech of your own. The address is buzz@nww.com.

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