Sun wraps management software around Grid Engine

Taking the grid computing model one step closer to becoming a mainstream architecture for the enterprise, Sun Microsystems Inc. on Monday fortified its Sun Grid Engine software and sent into beta release a new version of the technology, Sun Grid Engine Enterprise Edition.

Grid computing, largely the domain of academia and computer scientists, intends to bring the grid model typically associated with power utilities to computing, and enable users to plug in and access software, services and compute resources as if in one virtual supercomputer.

Sun has optimized its free, downloadable Grid Engine software for its iPlanet suite of management tools, making it easier for customers to engineer a grid computing portal, said Fred Cohout, the director of marketing for Sun's client and technical marketing products group.

The Grid Engine/iPlanet certification gives grid developers tools to manage and automate the allocation of grid resources, said Cohout.

"You can now more easily create a portal and set up a Window into a grid, and submit your job to those resources," explained Cohout.

The advantage is significant if grid computing is to someday become a standard architecture for enterprise computing.

"When you move from a (grid) cluster and go to a campus (grid), you have multiple owners of a resource, Cohout said. "So you have to have a piece of software that tells the computers (for example), that this project needs 50 percent of the available resources at all times, or (that) I'm going to over-ride this job and do job B, which gets 80 percent of the resources."

As Sun's Enterprise Edition of the Grid software matures in beta form, Sun hopes to begin extending to use of grid computing to campus-wide grids that have geographically dispersed servers.

The success of Sun's Enterprise Edition Grid software should usher in what Cohout called "the third phase" of grid computing, a phase where grid computing begins to take place globally, outside the current secure firewalls of grid users.

"Security is one of the barriers that needs to be addressed before grid computing can go global," said Cohout.

Another potential barrier could turn out to be the availability of raw IT talent, a requirement for the successful implementation of grid computing, according to Brent Sleeper, a partner at San Francisco-based research and consulting firm the Stencil Group. Sleeper believes that while the academic and scientific communities have expertise in grid computing, it remains to be seen whether the business world has the necessary skill set.

"All of this places much more emphasis on high-level architectural skills than on a check list of programming languages on a resume," he said.

"It also continues the trend towards many of the programming skills that we've seen getting a premium in the last few years: object oriented development models, emphasis on containers like the J2EE framework, and so on. And security, authentication, reliability, all of these things that we've often swept under the rug of our internal systems, must be addressed in any kind of distributed programming model," said Sleeper.

Sun is not the only major vendor pushing the concept of computing grids past the obstacles.

Last week, representatives for Houston-based Compaq said the company would sell on its Alpha servers a grid computing suite constructed through a series of partnerships by Platform Computing.

Toronto-based Platform Computing compiled the Platform Grid Suite, which houses Platform's own clustering capabilities, peer-to-peer software, file transfer, and scalability products, as well as the Globus Toolkit and Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Avaki's software for data access and compute resources in wide-area environments.

Platform's goal is to enable companies to build and hook into grids that include everything from the desktop to other companies' servers in different geographic locations, said Ian Baird, chief grid strategist and chief business architect at Platform Computing.

In August, IBM detailed a strategy that will essentially connect geographically disparate computing resources in such a way that the entirety of system, software and services resources can be harnessed as if it's one virtual supercomputer.

There are also a number of lesser-known players, such as Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Avaki, Killdara in Almonte, Ontario, and Rogue Wave Software, in Boulder, Colorado.

Furthermore, standards bodies such as OMG, W3C and the aptly-named Grid Forum are assuming roles in the move toward computing grids.

Some experts are also pointing to grids as the intersection point at which XML (Extensible Markup Language) processing, peer-to-peer networking and Web services will come together.

But even with the big guns behind it, analysts are saying that corporate IT shops may not be prepared for grid computing.

"I suspect that (IT is) too focused on the vision of what the grid idea could mean in the long run to make the pragmatic steps needed in the short term," said Sleeper.

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