At the GRIDtoday VIP Summit in Chicago earlier last month, I gave a
presentation that was a bit offbeat. Much is being written about the
how Grid is a paradigm-shifting, barrier-breaking technology that is
going to transform not just the data center, but the way enterprises
develop and deploy applications. And while the marketer in me
appreciates such boundless enthusiasm (and the scads of news coverage
the topic generates), I thought it would be a productive session to
look at the topic from another angle. Why are more companies not
adopting Grid? Or, why are they not adopting more of it, faster?
What follows here is a narrative of the five reasons presented during that session.
1. Lack of Understanding
For fans of "Saturday Night Live," you may recall a skit with Dan
Aykroyd and Gilda Radner as a couple debating the benefits of a new
product called "Shimmer," which -- according to the sales rep, Chevy
Chase -- was both a dessert topping and a floorwax.
Even those of you who never saw the original may be familiar with this
vignette, especially if you've been in the technology business long
enough. What is it -- a dessert topping or a floorwax? It's a pop
culture reference often used when products don't fit neatly into one
category. Given how much airtime is used defining Grid, it's an analogy
that's quite apropos. "Well, it's a cluster, it's a Grid, it's
virtual infrastructure ... " and the list goes on.
When we were at the last GRIDtoday Summit in London this May, we spent
time the first morning debating the differences between clusters and
Grids (and the implied value proposition of each.) Admittedly, it was a
slightly painful discussion. John Hurley of Boeing gave a brilliant
talk about the reality that enterprises don't care what we call it as
long as we can clearly articulate what this technology does for the
As distributed computing has evolved, many catch-phrases have been
used, especially as marketing machines continue pumping millions of
dollars into propagating each unique label. For some companies, it's
software. For others, it's hardware or services. And sometimes, it's a
vision or a brand that encompasses all three. But while vendors develop
new buzzwords in the hopes of creating a market distinction and -- we
hope -- a market advantage, in the end, what we've really created is
Without question, if our buyers -- the users -- don't have a common
language to discuss problems and solutions, it slows things down. This
confusion perpetuates a lack of understanding about this technology. At
DataSynapse, 18 months ago, the questions we were fielding during
evaluations centered more around "What is
Grid?" As the market
matured, the questions have shifted to: What does it do, exactly? What
will the impact be? Why do I want it? And probably most frequently
these days, "How do I get started?!"
To address this new need for customer understanding and action, it's
imperative to steer conversations toward the problems Grid can solve,
including proven examples of what this technology can do for their
2. Resistance to Change
Another hurdle that can't be discounted is the natural resistance to
change that exists within the enterprise. Grid evangelists sometimes
encounter the attitude that "good enough" is good enough.
Interestingly, though, the old adage about not fixing things that
aren't broken doesn't apply in this case because, while "broken" might
be the wrong word to describe enterprise technology today, there is
pain within the enterprise when application performance, scale and
reliability issues arise. But still, it's difficult to battle inertia
and to get folks to embrace new
ways of solving old
This is because -- shock of shocks -- new technology requires new skill
sets to deploy and support it.
For folks who've spent years building intricate "plumbing," the care
and feeding legacy distributed systems often require can translate into
job security, even if those homegrown solutions are not be getting the
job done as efficiently or effectively as possible. And, lastly, change
often equals risk. Proponents of Grid must be able to articulate the
risk/rewards scenario and the expected impact of a successful Grid
The fact of the matter is, Grid represents both an evolution and
a revolution. We all acknowledge that most enterprises have been doing
some form of distributed computing for years. So perhaps, implementing
Grid is merely an evolution from homegrown to packaged technology, so
enterprises can redeploy IT resources -- away from "minding the
infrastructure" and onto other value-add projects.
And yet, the impact of this technology -- up and down the entire stack
-- means that it is also revolutionary. Why? Because it has the power
to potentially change the way enterprises buy and deploy software and
hardware, and, ultimately, the way they manage a service-oriented
3. Cultural Impact
Closely related to "resistance to change," the fear of the unknown
prevents many a journey. Because it's not well understood, cultural
impact is one of the more widely reported inhibitors to Grid adoption.
As Grid software breaks down the silos that exist between applications
and business units, the simple fact is that people have to learn to share.
Grid delivers the power to distribute application service requests
across a pool of shared resources that are dynamically expanding and
contracting according to business demand -- regardless of who owns those
systems or where they're located.
The technology exists, but enterprises are simply not set up that way.
If one business unit pays for those resources, there's a proprietary
sense of "Why should I share? Let them go pay for their own." Often
referred to as "server-hugging," this is one of the most common sticking
points cited early in Grid software evaluations. Even if the resistance
to sharing is overcome, there are still other questions to answer.
Users often ask, "How do I know that, if I share, I'll still get what I
need done, when I need it?" What's lacking is the sense of trust in the
Grid's ability to guarantee execution of service requests based on
policy, priority and user-defined business rules.
4. Technology Impact
Though many companies have already started adopting Grid, there are
still many questions around where the technology fits within the IT
landscape. How will it impact current and planned infrastructure? Most
significantly, what applications fit on the Grid? Which make sense and
For example, during our implementations, applications are
assessed based on multiple criteria (e.g., unit of work, I/O
requirements, whether the workload is synchronous/asynchronous,
stateless/stateful, etc.). Applications are then plotted in a quadrant
that maps ease of integration against business value.
In Figure 1, applications that fall into the green quadrant (the
low-hanging fruit) are often characterized as computationally intense
or HPC. They represent the most significant pain points, and because
they often have work that is "easily parallelizable," Grid-enabling
them is somewhat straightforward. Unfortunately, the perception exists
today that Grid is only good for HPC applications. While it is an
obvious and easy place to start
for most enterprises, it doesn't
represent the sum total of opportunity for Grid within an enterprise.
There are two other hot-buttons that fall under the heading of Technology Impact: standards and security.
Standards are evolving, but slowly. Because of the overlap with so many
other technologies like Web services, SOA and traditional distributed
computing, a number of standards bodies are developing standards
related to Grid computing including the W3C, OASIS, IETF, DMTF, WS/I,
EGA, GGF and others. While it is not practical for vendors to support
all of the standards in the space, a combination of industry adoption
and standards maturity will eventually clear away some of the
Security also gets a lot of airtime, especially in situations for which
the enterprise is deploying Grid across its desktops. In a shared
environment like this, IT must be able to reassure users that the only
thing being scavenged is processing cycles -- not
5. Software Licensing
Although this topic could be logically grouped under
"Technology Impact," it's important enough to deserve it's own
place on the top five list. Arguably, software licensing is probably
the most-talked-about reason (right behind the cultural inhibitors) to explain why companies are slow to adopt Grid.
In a recent and comprehensive report on software licensing, the451 Group asserts: "As [enterprises]
evolve into using Grids as more mainstream technology, the restrictions
of current software licensing will become an even greater obstacle."
It's a pretty succinct summation of the limitations that current
licensing practices (per CPU, per seat, per user) place on Grid
adoption. Without question, the new computing models will require new
licensing models. Grid is just one of many catalysts spurring this
While much has been reported about how ISVs are uninterested or
unwilling to address Grid, there is
progress. A growing list of ISVs
Grid because it's a way to boost customer satisfaction
(e.g., Algorithmics, Calypso, Milliman, Reuters, etc.). In some cases,
they're announcing OEM agreements that embed Grid capabilities in their
software to offer out-of-the-box integration to their install base --
and all the inherent benefits in improved application performance that
come with it.
So, who's not
afraid of Grid computing? Actually, there is a
prestigious and growing list of global firms -- many of which are household brand
names -- that are willing to speak publicly about the significant and
measurable value they are deriving from Grid. Moreover, these are
companies that, in many cases, are expanding the size and scope of
their existing implementations to move toward enterprise Grids --
virtualizing multiple applications across multiple lines of businesses
and geographies. The case studies are out there -- at events like the
GRIDtoday VIP Summits and the upcoming GridWorld -- and anyone who cares to can who is utilizing Grid and how.
About Kelly Vizzini
As chief marketing officer at DataSynapse, Kelly Vizzini works to
leverage the company's existing successes and domain expertise to build
a brand identity that positions DataSynapse as the de facto standard in
the U.S. and European markets for distributed computing solutions.
Prior to her role at DataSynapse, Vizzini held marketing positions at
several software companies including Prescient, Optum, Metasys and
InfoSystems. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and
communications from the University of South Carolina.