NEC grid middleware keeps apps under control

Researchers at NEC have developed a prototype middleware system for grid computing environments that is capable of controlling...

Researchers at NEC have developed a prototype middleware system for grid computing environments that is capable of controlling the hardware and network and the applications and services that are running on datacentre servers.

"We'd like to combine resources on demand to provide a virtual datacentre," said Yoshiki Seo, senior manager at NEC's Grid System Technology Group, in an interview on Friday.

The software goes a step beyond current systems and can control an entire datacentre including the services running on servers, he said. It was outlined by NEC at the 2004 IEEE International Conference on Web Services (ICWS 2004), which was held in San Diego last week.

At present most virtualisation middleware allows for control of the hardware and network elements of a datacentre, said Seo. NEC has taken this a step further and added in control of the services running on the servers to make the total control system more effective.

Seo suggested a datacentre on which a content delivery network (CDN) and transaction processing system are running.

When the CDN is running close to capacity the system can not only allocate more resources from a reserve pool of servers and bandwidth but also from the transaction processing system.

This latter step is possible because the middleware can examine the current state of the application and, should it be running at a low load, take resources away from it and redeploy then were they are needed more. All the time, it monitors the transaction system to ensure it continues running within parameters on the new hardware configuration.

"In order to provide this, we must control many resources in an orchestrated way," said Seo. This is done with policies that are prepared in advance to typically cope with the majority of instances which might confront the datacentre manager.

"The system isn't smart itself," he said. "All the control is predefined as policies by the system manager."

"Our hope, our objective is to reduce running costs by half," said Hiroshi Katayama, general manager of NEC's Internet Systems Research Laboratories. "That's our current target but we have not reached it yet."

Integration of the prototype system into commercial software is expected to begin next year and NEC says the full system should be available in two years, said Katayama.

Before then it not only has to refine the management software but also work on areas such as support for network hardware. Gear from several suppliers is currently supported but the company is looking to widen this and also add in an automatic discovery of new hardware and automatic network configuration.

It is also contributing to the Business Grid Computing Project of Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). Several universities and national institutes are also taking part as are competitors Hitachi and Fujitsu. The project began last year and has two more years to run and includes standardisation of grid computing technologies as part of its aim.

Martyn Williams writes for IDG News Service

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