IBM's Thomas Hawk discusses grid computing

Thomas Hawk, who heads IBM's grid computing program, sat down to defend and explain the technology concept to Computerworld's Patrick Thibodeau and Robert L. Mitchell. The goal of grid computing is to allow organizations to treat all their hardware and applications as one system or resource. Hawk believes that kind of development is already taking place, even if it's not recognized as such. In fact, virtualization is one example of an early form of grid computing, he argued during the discussion.

Q: Your vision of grid computing as a universal virtualization layer for a broad range of enterprise IT services casts such a wide net, and strings together so many technologies that already don't work well, that it's hard not be skeptical about it. How do you defend it?

To me, it's all about the open-standards integration and acceptance. If we don't gravitate to open standards, then we will struggle. Companies buying technology have been clamoring for this for a while. They're candidly mad as hell and don't want to take it anymore, and it's being driven by a level of complexity that they can't deal with.

The No. 1 inhibitor to growing capability primarily from the IT function is the inability to manage complexity. So we see the virtualization of the infrastructure over the appearance of open standards, and then the ultimate transformations of products and services to those standards, as a way to mask that complexity, reduce it significantly and increase manageability.

Q: Are you working with your competitors on standards?

Yes. IBM, Sun, HP, Microsoft is stepping up more, BEA -- all of those players are members of the Global Grid Forum to one degree or another. We are doing that collaboratively as a byproduct of the activities of the Global Grid Forum. But there are specific customer implementations that are also driving vendors together.

Q:Should users be pushing vendors to ensure products have grid standards?

Absolutely. It is fascinating to me how little power the aggregation of the customer base believes they have. They have all of the power. Customers don't realize the clout and the power they have.

Q: At what point does grid get beyond scientific and engineering applications and becomes used widely by businesses?

The thing that takes it to the next step is transaction management, where we can now begin to deal with, in a gridded infrastructure, the combination of traditional batch, job or compute-intensive workloads along with robust, transaction-oriented applications.

Q: A lot of companies are heavily into virtualization and increasing their utilization rates for IT resources such as storage and compute power. If they are already accomplishing that, why bother with grid computing?

If they are accomplishing that ... then they are doing grid. If they are doing virtualization, it is grid. Maybe it's an early instance of grid. People who are virtualizing their infrastructures -- that's what they are doing. They are grid-enabling their capabilities.

Q: The biggest grid advocates are the vendors. When we talk to people out in the field, no one is saying they need grid systems to solve their broader business computing problems; it doesn't appear to be on many radar screens. Are we wrong?

At the end of the day, I think a lot of the virtualization activities are taking place. I think the exploitation of the infrastructures across heterogenous platforms is taking place. Whether or not people are calling that grid -- some are, some aren't. But when you talk about the client base that we have in the Fortune 2,000, there's a pretty healthy understanding of and knowledge of grid.

Is there more to be done? Yes. But I think the knowledge of the deployment and concepts (is) happening more rapidly.

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