At the National High Performance Computing and Communications Conference held
this past week in Newport, R.I., (www.hpcc-usa.org
) "Grid" was definitely not a
four letter word.
This "insider's conference," now moving into its 20th
year, still maintains a certain elite status. Senior technology visionaries and
policy influencers once again gathered on Newport's beautiful Goat
Island to talk about initiatives, technologies, products, research and funding
that represent the future of High Performance Computing. It should be no
surprise that Grid was included in almost every presentation.
mentioned as part of HPC strategic directions for a number of private, public and
government organizations, supported by some lively discussions of Grid being the
enabler of convergence between HPC and enterprise
Here's an interesting factoid: From an informal survey I conducted
among attendees -- keeping in mind this was an HPC conference -- there
were just as many attendees that read GRIDtoday as those referencing
HPCwire (a sister publication of GRIDtoday, published by Tabor
Communications Inc.). Grid is undoubtedly the hottest topic in HPC.
While presentations from
Intel and SGI focused more on "thinking inside the chip" -- the core technology
advancements and ever-complex challenges of silicon fabrication -- the majority of
the presentations were focused on "thinking outside the box" -- on application
requirements with never-ending computing needs and the realization that
organizations need to start thinking differently about how they build their
Several attendees I spoke with were surprised
to see an obvious trend being unveiled: high-end computing applications across
many industries are now relying on Grid infrastructures to meet their computing
and communications challenges. It's happening today. And just witnessing the
interaction during the breaks and networking events made another point quite
obvious: the dance floor, as we say, is getting crowded.
these technology advancements, I find it refreshing that business still gets
done by people dealing directly with people. One attendee told me he was able
to make more personal introductions and hand out more business cards at this
intimate gathering than at another event he recently attended with several
thousand people. I concur. And, better yet, everyone wanted to talk about Grid.
I heard descriptions of Grids, clusters, networks, shared departmental
systems -- all being referred to as Grids. But more on that later.
If it Walks Like a Duck ...
While working on this column, two odd-looking ducks landed on my
balcony. I was staring at them trying to figure out what was so
different about them. It made me think: if it walks and talks
like a duck -- it might just be a duck. But does it really matter? All
these implementations might just be a Grid.
A number of analysts and
industry observers, this writer included, have said for some time that the many,
varied definitions of Grid, or lack of a consistently-used definition, has been
a barrier to wider spread adoption. I no longer believe this is the case. If
an organization believes that its computing infrastructure, network and shared
resources constitute a Grid, then it serves their purpose, regardless of it
meeting any textbook definition of a Grid.
This broad-based use of the
term Grid might, in fact, be helping us to embrace the potential of what a Grid
infrastructure can offer. That's not a bad thing.
I think one of the
best known Grid visionaries and industry leaders, Dr. Wolfgang Gentzsch of MCNC
(North Carolina) made this point very well during his panel presentation. His
message: Don't get hung up on the definition of a Grid. All the efforts that
companies today describe as Grid infrastructures are helping to move the
industry in the right direction. I agree.
What is Really Driving the Momentum Toward Grid Infrastructures?
Walking among this group of
HPC gurus, I was curious. Why has Grid become so important? Is it because the
standards are finally evolving? Is it because of the overwhelming cost savings
to be realized? Is it all about more efficient IT utilization? Not from what I
As most agreed, the reason for this recent momentum comes with the
realization from a number of these organizations that they need to
start thinking of Grid a bit differently. "Grid is not just about
saving IT dollars." "Grid it is not just about more efficient
utilization of resources." The emphatic point made by a number of
forward-thinking industry leaders is that Grid is an enabler of a new
way of thinking, a new way of doing business and a way to do new things
I think there are two things we can expect
to see this year. New technology
to support the computational
challenges of unmanageable amounts of data, and new thinking
on how to build computational infrastructures -- the quest for a
cyberinfrastructure -- and the realization of Grid as being the
foundation of high-end computing advancement.
I've met with a number of companies over the past
year that were simply in a rut -- trying to remain competitive by attempting to
apply new technology without changing the way they thought about or approached
the problems. You can't simply apply old problem solving to a new computing
Grid could enable the convergence of HPC and mainstream
computing. That's huge.
Grid is fostering a new way of thinking. Grid is even driving the investment, both in money and resources, into
rethinking business processes and usage models.
Grids can be built to serve specific (work group, departmental)
purposes and, certainly, the enterprise can benefit from
organization-wide virtualization of resources. Some organizations have
chosen to describe Grid as part of the bigger picture -- part of the
Service-Oriented Enterprise -- but my thinking leans toward Grid
actually being the bigger picture. That is, Grid is the infrastructure
of the new enterprise architecture. Grid is the architecture of the
Grid implementation offers the potential of unlimited access to data, with no
dependency on location, and not just to access or retrieve the data, but also
the ability to manipulate the data to accomplish things previously
impossible. It's about virtualization, and that has very broad appeal well beyond the HPC community.
As we've learned historically, new technology
forces us to transform our business processes. Adopting new business processes
often allows us to tackle new business problems or challenges. The enterprise
of the future will be a mesh (or a Grid if you will) of all resources available
to take on a given problem at a specific point in time. Dynamic, virtual,
scalable, seamless, transparent.
The concepts of utility computing or
autonomic computing -- and even the Service-Oriented Enterprise, the architecture
and infrastructure discussions around the enterprise or the architecture of the
future -- make much more sense if a Grid infrastructure is already in place. For
the most part, we are all talking about the same thing.
challenges for implementing a Grid infrastructure fall into three categories:
technical, cultural and administrative. We plan to explore these challenges
in-depth with a significant state-of-the-industry market analysis report to be
released in the fall of this year.
But for now, here's the latest buzz: Grids are far from mature, and they bring along their own set of challenges,
with the political challenges not to be taken lightly. However, the effort is worth
the pain -- don't get hung up on the small stuff.
Mike Bernhardt is CEO of Grid Strategies Inc., a niche
market analyst, consulting and advisory group offering guidance, counsel, and
business and market planning services for clients of all sizes working in and
around the emerging Grid industry. Learn more about the company at www.GridStrategies.com