HP to help countries build data centers

Hewlett-Packard Co. plans to use grid computing to make available large amounts of computing resources in countries around the world that are looking to build out their technology infrastructures.

HP officials are looking to help countries such as China, South Africa and India make computing power available to the public and private sectors by creating data centers that could be shared by many organizations, said John Sontag, department manager at HP Laboratories, during an interview this week at the Grid Computing Planet conference in San Jose, California. HP's grid computing technology ties together collections of servers and storage systems located in many sites.

A government-sponsored data center could help some countries jump-start their computing efforts and provide vast resources to companies and schools that could not otherwise afford them. The government could allow these groups to "plug in" to the data center and share servers and storage systems.

"The World Bank or governments in these countries will buy and fund data centers," Sontag said. "The data centers would then be shared between the private sector, businesses and education bodies."

HP, along with Sun Microsystems Inc., IBM Corp. and others, promotes grid computing technology, which makes it possible to create a pool of computing resources that can be shared by many users or organizations at once. Instead of running a task on one computer, grid computing applications search a vast network of servers for systems that are not being fully used and then runs tasks on those machines. Scientific institutions have driven the development of grid technology thus far, tapping unused computers to complete complex calculations, but vendors such as HP hope to develop commercial applications for the technology.

HP, based in Palo Alto, California, is looking to combine part of its grid technology, which it calls the Utility Data Center (UDC), with the expertise that Compaq Computer Corp. has gained through working with the Globus Project, an organization dedicated to making grid software, Sontag said. HP's acquisition of Compaq was approved last month. Carly Fiorina, chairman and chief executive officer at HP, has travelled to countries such as South Africa to promote the company's grid technology and encourage the idea of central data centers managed by national governments, he said.

"It makes sense in countries like South Africa, where people are willing to spend money on their technology infrastructure," he said. "The government and World Bank is interested, and you could see HP doing something like that in the next year or two."

At this time, security problems could make this type of shared computing system unfeasible, but HP researchers are working to build far-reaching authentication systems that would let rival companies store information safely on shared servers, Sontag said. The researchers will use a combination of security features built into Intel Corp.'s Itanium processor along with a hardened version of Linux being developed by HP to help pull this off, he said.

One analyst said that grid computing has worked for scientists running customized applications thus far but that opening up a grid for commercial computing will be difficult.

"To do it right in an engineering and scientific environment is much easier than in a commercial environment," said Jim Cassell, group vice president at Dataquest Research, a unit of Stamford, Connecticut-based Gartner Inc. "The trick with grid computing is making sure you can monitor systems to see if resources are up or down, that servers have the right configurations for the task and that there is spare capacity."

In order to bring about the kind of grid computing that HP envisions, Cassell said the vendor will have to work with Sun, IBM and other vendors to create a solid set of standards to manage these core tasks.

Sontag admits that full-fledged grid computing is still years away, but he feels HP has several components of the necessary technology ready to go now and could be used by governments willing to give grid computing a try.

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