Grid suppliers form interoperability alliance

Several of the IT industry's biggest players have formed a group called the Enterprise Grid Alliance to promote grid computing in...

Several of the IT industry's biggest players have formed a group called the Enterprise Grid Alliance to promote grid computing in the enterprise.

Their goal is to boost the adoption of grid computing by hammering out technology specifications that allow customers to mix and match products from a variety of suppliers.

Oracle, EMC, Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems are among the initial board members of the Enterprise Grid Alliance. Other participants include NEC, Cisco Systems and Novell.

The alliance is open to any organisation that wants to join, including customers, for a fee starting at $5,000 per year, said Donald Deutsch, an Oracle vice president who is serving as president of the alliance.

One analyst applauded the effort, saying it could benefit large enterprises, which typically have a mix of hardware and software in their datacentres. But the magnitude of the task, and the fact that two of the industry's biggest players - IBM and Microsoft - are not yet on board, means the alliance has its work cut out, said IDC vice president of systems software research Dan Kusnetzky.

The goal is to produce a set of specifications that will allow grid products from various suppliers to interoperate, and to produce test suites that will help customers identify products that are interoperable.

The alliance will also study new methods of paying for hardware and software, since traditional pricing methods are hard to apply in a grid environment, Deutsch said.

Grid computing involves linking groups of computers and storage devices together in a way that lets enterprises allocate those resources dynamically as they are needed. For example, when demand for a payroll application surges at the end of the month, enterprises should be able to shift the workload from that application onto additional servers, and move it off again when the peak load has passed.

Most of the big companies have been promoting the grid model, promising to help customers reduce IT costs by using resources more efficiently. But their products don't always interoperate, causing headaches for customers who use, for example, Oracle's database software, HP's management software and EMC's storage gear.

The work of the alliance could prove useful for customers, but it will be difficult for a large group of suppliers to agree on common standards, IDC's Kusnetzky said, adding that the alliance will need to get IBM and Microsoft on board if it hopes to succeed.

Both IBM and Microsoft are still deciding whether to join and would not comment further.

Any specifications produced by the alliance will be released on an open, royalty free basis, Deutsch said. The alliance offers various levels of membership, ranging from $50,000 for "sponsors" who hold seats on the board, to $5,000 for "associates" who attend working group meetings but cannot vote.

Oracle first proposed a commercial grid consortium in September, and the Enterprise Grid Alliance is the fruit of those efforts. In proposing the idea, Oracle raised the hackles of groups already working on grid standards, most notably the Global Grid Forum. "There was some angst initially, but we've tried to assure [the other groups] that we will work with them," Deutsch said.

The Global Grid Forum has a broader focus that includes academic and scientific computing, while the Enterprise Grid Alliance is focused squarely on the datacentre.

"We are not interested in collecting unused CPU cycles from widely distributed systems, or in academic and research computing," Deutsch said.

The alliance will work with existing standards groups and adopt their specifications where possible. A representative from the Global Grid Forum said Monday it supports the work of the Enterprise Grid Alliance so long as it makes a genuine effort to use existing standards.

The alliance is in the process of setting up five working groups and hopes to see deliverables from them in about six months. They are working on areas such as a common API (application programming interface) for provisioning systems in a grid environment; a common security mechanism; and a new model for billing customers using grid computing.

James Niccolai writes for IDG News Service

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