Platform, Sun strengthen enterprise grid play

Platform Computing Inc. and Sun Microsystems Inc. are each separately working to move grid computing towards wider enterprise adoption.

Platform Computing on Monday will officially announce Version 5 upgrades to its LSF (Load Sharing Facility) and MultiCluster software, significantly expanding enterprise clustering capabilities, according to James Pang, a product manager for Platform, based in Toronto.

"With this version we have more upgrades to making it more suitable for enterprise grid computing," Pang said. "Specifically what that means is we push up the scalablity capability, pushing out to hundreds of thousands of CPUs, more than 100 clusters, and 500,000 jobs per cluster."

Continuing to sharpen the focus of its grid computing strategies on commercial accounts, Sun Microsystems on Thursday rolled out two new versions of its grid software including one specifically aimed at larger enterprises.

The Sun Grid Engine Enterprise Edition 5.3 contains a number of policy management capabilities that allow multiple workgroups to share a variety of computing resources that can be best matched up to whatever goals set by those workgroups or by the IT department.

Many of the capabilities in the new package are a direct result of Sun's larger customers demanding they get better support for handling multiple projects and departments within their enterprise. Sun officials claim the new version should allow them to more easily manage expanded grids as well fine-tune control over the relevant computing resources, even reallocating those resources on the fly.

"In the Sun Grid Engine Policy Module we have a new variant, which is time. So over a week, a month, or a quarter, if two parties are sharing the same resources and Project A needs 80 percent of the resources and Project B needs 20 [percent], then the software automatically adjusts usage to match those over that period of time. We see that as a big differentiator for us in the market," said Miha Ahronovitz, line product manager for Sun's proprietary Grid product family.

Sun officials note that the new version works smoothly with the company's set of ClusterTools and the Sun Management Center, which both serve to supply additional infrastructure functions.

Experts such as Robert Batchelder, research director with Gartner Inc., based in Stamford, Conn., believes Sun is on the right track by leveraging resource management tools, as well as ease of use, in its enterprise grid offering.

"Sun is providing basic enterprise-class grid capabilities. So their product is getting quite a bit of interest," said Batchelder. "People buy [enterprise grid technology] so they can handle the surge situation, but then when they look at their steady-state demand, they realize that they are running at a fraction of their utilization. So that being the case, it's logical to try and expose grid resources to other places in the organization, because one man's surge might be another man's downtime. So Sun providing an infrastructure to do that with a relatively inexpensive layer of management software is very appealing to companies."

Sun's "from the bottom up" enterprise grid strategy is inverse to Platform's "from the top down" approach, Batchelder said.

"Platform has taken an architecture than is a number of years old and re-architected it so you can build clusters that are scattered all over the world and have a great deal of regularity on how you manage processes," said Batchelder, who added that only IBM Corp. rivals Platform for grid savvy.

In addition to Platform's upgrades to LSF 5 and MultiCluster 5, which include virtual collaboration, utility-model resource procurement, and an XML application interface, Platform also announced it would offer integration support for Sun's Grid Engine, as well as for PBS and Veridian PBS Pro.

As part of Thursday's rollout Sun also unveiled an updated version of the lower-end Sun Grid Engine software. The new version includes an improved ability to utilize compute resources more intelligently, thereby permitting users to better prioritize and schedule jobs and allowing for greater project throughput.

Sun sees the evolution of its grid computing strategy developing in three stages. The first is the lowest level grid where one department is responsible for processing multiple projects. The second phase is the enterprise grid where multiple grids can be clustered around a single grid capable of handling multiple departments working on multiple projects inside the firewall and all sharing the same computing resources. The third phase is what the company refers to as the Global Grid, where multiple departments and working on multiple projects are sharing resources over the Internet.

"In this third phase is where companies gain global views of distributed data sets. We [Sun] are not there yet," Ahronovitz said.

As commercial accounts become more interested in implementing Grid technologies, the convergence between that world and the scientific and research world -- the latter being where most of the action for grid computing has taken place so far -- will more rapidly converge. What will serve to connect those two worlds will be Web services, according to Ahronovitz.

Batchelder was skeptical of the direct relationship between grid computing and Web services, and considered the latter a logical extension of a number technologies looking to benefit from the current hype surround Web services.

However, another Sun executive said Web services will not be the only glue in this case.

"I am not convinced that the only way you can do enterprise applications is to describe them in a Web-services way. For instance, one interesting requirement on the commercial is portal access. Companies could use something like the Sun ONE Portal Server [formerly the iPlanet Portal] to work with the Sun Grid engine, [and] that would allow you to have a rapid deployment of portals using that tool set," said John Tollefsrud, marketing manager for the Sun Grid computing products.

Batchelder said that while grid computing is far from a "wonder drug" for enterprise computing woes, "enterprises are going to move into it gradually."

"Companies are just realizing that they are going to need large resources, and they're in much more of an optimizing mind set right now, and they have the capacity, so that's why grids are catching on," he said.

Available now, the Sun Grid Engine 5.3 has software licensing fees ranging from US$20,000 for up to 50 processors to $80,000 for up to 2,000 processors.

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