Oracle setting up commercial grid consortium

Oracle is trying to establish a new consortium to hammer out technology standards for grid computing in commercial environments, an Oracle executive said Wednesday. The effort could butt heads with a grid standards effort already underway.

Oracle wasn't ready to name prospective members of the consortium but said it's been talking to customers who've shown an interest in grid computing, notably in the financial services and health-care industries, as well as with IT vendors including those making blade servers and other hardware components for the grid.

"We're interested in forming a commercial grid consortium so that, together with other members of the industry, we can define standards that make up the APIs (application programming interfaces) and functions for the commercial grid computing infrastructure, and we're well on our way to doing that," said Chuck Rozwat, Oracle executive vice president for server technologies, in a speech at OracleWorld Wednesday.

At least one prominent group for defining grid standards already exists -- the Global Grid Forum (GGF). Oracle is a member of that group, Rozwat told reporters later, along with IT vendors including Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc., and a raft of academic and federal research institutions.

"We're definitely not trying to compete with the Global Grid Forum and we think some people will be members of both groups," Rozwat said. "We think their focus tends to be on scientific problems" as opposed to the issues facing enterprise customers, he said.

For example, grids used by the academic and research communities tend to be distributed widely around the globe and across multiple organizations, Rozwat said. Businesses, in contrast, are expected to build grids that operate within the company, even within a single data center. In addition, the GGF's level of interest in security isn't as high as it needs to be for commercial grid deployment, Rozwat said.

One analyst said he agreed in principle with the need for a separate standards group. The GGF's traditional focus on academic and scientific environments means it might not be the best place for developing standards for commercial grids, said Bill Claybrook, a research director for Linux and grid computing at Aberdeen Group Inc.

"I think the people at GGF are concerned about security, but they are interested in a grid architecture that applies across organizations, even across countries. When you start talking about commercial grids, most people won't be sharing information or computing resources across companies," Claybrook said.

In addition, GGF's roots in the academic and research worlds mean it is not geared towards helping its members make money from grid computing. One of the goals of the commercial grid forum will likely be to establish standards quickly that allow vendors to start making money, he said.

"I somewhat agree with what Oracle is saying. I think they want to narrow the focus of what the GGF is doing so that they can get something done that people can actually use now in commercial environments," Claybrook said.

One characteristic of the GFF has been to release version upgrades to its grid tools that are so different from the previous version that they are incompatible, he added. A group focussed on serving commercial markets would be more likely to guard against that type of issue.

Ian Foster, a member of GGF's steering committee, was surprised Wednesday to learn of Oracle's plan.

"The GGF includes Sun, IBM, HP, Intel (Corp.), Microsoft (Corp.) ... so there is already a pretty good group there representing commercial perspectives," he said.

"One issue here is that there's a tendency to use the 'grid' word to describe any sort of clustered computing. Maybe (Oracle) is talking about the need for standards for a clustered system, which is an important area and not a major focus of GGF. Once you get beyond a single administrative domain I think there will be significant overlap" between the work of the two groups, Foster said.

Aberdeen's Claybrook said a certain amount of overlap seems inevitable.

"I don't think they have to compete, but they will probably go off in a different direction even if they don't intend to. There's no way they will stay completely compatible. In other words, I don't think the commercial consortium will be a subset of what GGF is doing, and I don't think GGF will be a superset of the Oracle effort," Claybrook said.

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