The intense expectations that have emerged around grid computing put the onus on those who are developing the technology to be careful with the language they use to explain it, Gage said at the Global Grid Forum in Seattle, attended by 700 delegates.
"The language really matters, and confusion on language can be really damaging," Gage said.
Citing Sun's experience with Java as an example, he warned developers about the dangers of hype and cautioned them that grid computing risks becoming a catch-all phrase that promises more than it ever can deliver.
"Because of the success of grid, we’re hearing that grid solves all problems of interconnecting devices, whether they’re cameras, sensors or astronomical imaging devices," he said.
Grid computing has received more than its fair share of hype, agreed Charlie Catlett, the chair of the Global Grid Forum (GGF), after Gage's speech. "The hype factor is something that concerns all of us," he said.
The term grid computing has been used to describe a myriad of computing scenarios, from harnessing the processing power in networked PCs build a vast, distributed "supercomputer", to an alternative architecture for the internet that will provide the underpinnings for web services and other distributed applications.
The marketing hype seems an unavoidable side-effect, as big suppliers such as IBM, Microsoft and Gage's own Sun Microsystems latch onto a technology that was once the domain of academics and researchers.
More involvement in grid computing by suppliers and corporations translates into more marketing people trying to explain the concept, Catlett said. And that can lead to confusion and mixed messages.
Trying to control the marketing messages of every company now involved in grid computing would be a daunting task. "If we were a single company we would have only one set of marketing folks to rein in," he said.
Forty per cent of developers involved in grid development now work for commercial entities, as opposed to government or academic organisations, for example, and the proportion of work being done by corporate developers rather than publicly funded coders is increasing, Catlett said.
Already, "caricatures" of grid computing have begun to circulate, Catlett said. The Seti@home project, for example, "could certainly be called a grid application, but that's not what grids are all about", he said. "It's sort of like saying that the internet is e-mail. It's not untrue, but the internet is a lot more than e-mail."
Delegates at the conference are working on a wide variety of standards encompassing security, scheduling and resource management, performance management and data management.
Robert McMillan writes for IDG News Service