Watch for the Grid

There’s too much going on here to ignore. Folks from governments, research institutes, universities, and big corps are gathering together in sparely furnished conference halls, talking in excited, almost embarrassed tones, about something called “the Grid,” with techy phrases like data mining, Web services, information utilities, and virtual organizations. IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) is positioning itself to build a whole services business around it, while Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), and Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW) are all developing Grid strategies. In homes around the U.S., kids are logging onto Butterfly.net and gaming in ways that depart radically from Microsoft’s hopes for the Xbox. Protocols are being designed, virtual organizations envisioned. It sounds like the beginnings of the Internet years ago: a technology initially designed for the military or research organizations finding its way into the imaginations of capitalists, children, and a few of us who are not quite either. This time around it's about taking what there is on the Web and adding a method for tying together servers, storage, and computing resources to create virtual organizations, virtual worlds, or virtual supercomputers. Consider how having affordable access to a supercomputer could help your business. You could offload computation-intensive projects onto the Grid (ASIC design, 3D modeling, scientific calculations, genome mapping, pharmacology, digital movie effects, you name it) and go about your day’s work. Different organizations, different companies, or even different governments can use the Grid to collaborate, demonstrate, and create new projects (warfare and its devastating effects, predictably). It’s got everyone excited, but just how entrepreneurs can participate today is not immediately clear. There are a lot of folks reading through arcane distributed processing literature out here in Silicon Valley, scratching their heads. A good place to start watching the Grid is the Globus Project, initiated by Ian Foster and Carl Kesselman in 1999 as a blueprint for a new computing infrastructure to enable scaleable virtual organizations. As you’ll see, Globus is an open-source toolkit for enabling computers and applications to be participants in a grid system. Grids, according to the Globus Project, are “persistent environments that enable software applications to integrate instruments, displays, computational and information resources that are managed by diverse organizations in widespread locations.” Today, the focus is primarily on software, a middleware that provides the glue between users and distributed resources out in the network. That middleware needs its own set of protocols, its own method of ensuring security and distributed resource management. It will rely on the development of APIs (application program interfaces) and on a wicked fast, data-optimized network infrastructure. Globus is also developing applications that are purpose-built for grid computing and has released a couple of versions of its toolkit for developers. Also take a look at the Global Grid Forum, which is going about developing the concepts of an Integrated Grid Architecture that will facilitate the development of grids, large and small, around the world. The whole world is involved in this, which leads one to wonder why so few telecom companies are making noise about it. Europe has devoted significant research dollars to grid computing, as has Japan, Canada, and most other developed nations (see Dot Hill Enters the Grid, Particle Physics Ups Storage Ante, and SAN Gear No Go for Grid Computing). Sounds like the Internet in 1995, doesn’t it? Ask Steve Mullaney, VP of marketing at Force10 Networks Inc., about the Grid and he lights up, looking 16 and about to get his first car. (This is good for a marketing guy.) Telcos are no place to make hay this year or next, and going after the enterprise runs you into Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), hundreds of accounts, working through VARs, building lots of relationships... But the Grid: Hey, that’s a few big players with big plans for services and the associated infrastructure. They’ve got the computers, the servers, the storage in-house, but they need switches, and fast ones. That’s exciting. Ahmar Abbas, managing director of Grid Technology Partners, has dived in headfirst after spending time at ONI Systems Inc. and UUNet. He’s got a report out that makes a case for the Grid’s lasting importance and considers it the “Next New New Thing.” The Grid isn’t just about IBM and supercomputers, but local grids as well, built inside a single company. If grid software can run on PCs, then all the desktops in a corporation can be part of a computing platform that can run processes that otherwise might be run on dedicated servers. In this sense, grid computing is a visible result of a trend toward peer-to-peer computing, harnessing the latent power of idle computers everywhere. So what does this mean for the optical and data networking community? Two things: 10-Gigabit Ethernet and the reemergence of the ASP (application service provider). Here are the details. First, 10-Gigabit Ethernet. Looking at a Grid networking architecture (such as the one here: www.teragrid.org/img/teragrid.sm.jpg), it becomes quite clear that connectivity among the many application servers, databases, and computing resources and users is most effectively accomplished by Ethernet. Gigabit Ethernet is clearly the most cost-effective interface for servers, storage systems, computers, and supercomputers – the muscle of the Grid. Thus, it follows that if you want to hook all these together at the highest speeds possible you want little more than aggregated, clean throughput – none of the fancy packet processing that gets built into router ports, but straight-ahead forwarding. 10GigE switches, located at the boundaries of Grid nodes, will be on-ramps to the connective tissue of the Grid, the optical transmission networks. In the metro, optical Ethernet solutions can provide low-cost transport over dark fiber, via CWDM or DWDM, whichever makes the most economic sense for the provider. Further down the road, Grid service providers will be asking for more than just forwarding performance out of their switches. Already, a great deal of work is underway to support security in distributed computing systems. Switches may have to incorporate higher-layer functions of security, QOS, etc., to remain relevant to increasing service demands from these new service providers. Which brings us to number two, the reemergence of the ASP, or perhaps GSP, for Grid Service Provider. These GSPs will be quite distinct from our telcos – which may find themselves reduced to being little more than pipe suppliers – focused entirely on providing a robust Grid for customers to access for any number of computation- and storage-intensive applications. According to Force10's Mullaney, online gaming is an early application of grid computing. “The infrastructure demands are huge to be able to support a scaleable gaming platform. That’s perfect for folks like IBM to host people like Butterfly.net. It lets them focus on the gaming applications while IBM focuses on the infrastructure. It also lets Butterfly.net become profitable because they don't need to worry about how many servers to buy. IBM builds a grid infrastructure to support them and dynamically adds more compute resources as needed. In this way Butterfly does not have to go buy and install the maximum number of servers to handle peak loads.” Abbas of Grid Technology Partners sees things developing this way: “Grid Computing will gain a foothold in the product life-cycle/R&D side of the firms first. These groups already have defined computational requirements, as evidenced by their existing investments in high-performance computing and clusters. For example: electronic design automation applications at semiconductor companies; computational fluid dynamics applications at automotive and aerospace industries; bioinformatics and proteomics applications at big and small pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms. Most of these applications already have been parallelized for deployments on clusters and high performance computers. This phase has started already. “The second wave of deployment will start when IBM, BEA Systems Inc. [Nasdaq: BEAS], Peoplesoft, etc., have Grid-enabled their business-process-related applications. This phase, in my opinion, won't start until 2004/5. But the interesting part here is that once this does start, most companies would already have grids deployed for R&D applications – hence the deployment should be friction-free and swift. The CIO will be the decision maker here. The third phase will be Internet applications, including gaming.” What stands out here is how unique this opportunity is in today’s market of ruined service providers. Telcos thought the Internet would justify their expansions, but the Internet has no real owner, so access was about all any carrier could provide, and access or transport gets commoditized quite easily – so before they knew it, telcos were charging less than their own costs just to get customers on their networks. It’s a downward spiral in which telcos are still caught. Their answer is to add value to their commodity services, but that value remains locked in the way bits are transported. “The main market for telecom equipment is today primarily from public-sector grid projects such as the Teragrid, etc.,” says Abbas, a veteran of the telecom world. “The telecom component (including dark fiber acquisition) is roughly 200 to 300 million dollars this year. While winning a portion of this may not have a material impact on, e.g., Cisco's revenue in percentage terms, it has worked out in the favor of Ciena Corp. [Nasdaq: CIEN], Force10, Qwest Communications International Inc. [NYSE: Q], and Level 3 Communications Inc. [Nasdaq: LVLT] recently. However, just as Nortel Networks Corp. [NYSE/Toronto: NT] garnered substantial revenue selling their metro optical gear through the storage area application, vendors that gain early mindshare will be able to sell their wares around this application as enterprise grids start getting built. “Secondly, Teragrid and its counterparts in Asia and Europe could be laying the foundation for a next-generation network, Today, Teragrid has 4 nodes National Center for Supercomputing Applications, the Argonne National Laboratory, the San Diego Supercomputer Center, and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), but others are signing up – recently on is Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center. This could further expand to include all academic institutions and maybe even companies such as Ford, Caterpillar, Boeing, etc. Somebody will have to provide the equipment to connect these additional nodes.” So the telecom carriers will be there to provide interconnectivity, but their ability to generate real margins from the opportunity remains a bit dubious, if their only role is providing the pipes. Look at what a different position an IBM or Sun is in. They have no flat-rate, all-you-can-eat pricing model to deal with. For grid-based services, they provide very sophisticated processing, not just pushing bits, so they are not nearly as susceptible to commoditization. They can leverage their brand, their systems integration expertise, their teams of application developers. “Some people see it, some don't,” says Force10’s Mullaney. “I believe that the incumbent carriers in the U.S. will not see the computing services opportunity, and there will be other players who will capitalize on this trend. IBM is as good a choice as any to make hay with this.” Which leads us to the final, provocative question: Is it possible to foresee a future in which IBM is the leading profitable service provider in the U.S., while telcos chase the elusive value-added-services dollars to no avail? A lot of people are beginning to think so. — Scott Clavenna, Director of Research, Light Reading
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D&K 12/4/2012 | 9:46:35 PM
re: Watch for the Grid At least I think it's a Data Point system. Distributed processing around blazing Arcnet connections, and perhaps dig out the spec on 100 mb Arcnet...


I might even have an old 9600 baud modem so I too can participate in live, exciting games of Pong - yes I still have it attached to the little Curtiss-Mathis TV it came with many years ago.

Didn't IBM sell their entire global network to AT&T? Perhaps it was just pieces of it. Any one know more about what IBM has left or is building for the GRID?

I've got my little 486 box crunching numbers for SETI while I anxiously await the latest news out here in the styx regarding the GRID.

I wanna play, I wanna play.

Cows are calling, gotta go.

Dazed and as usual, Konfuzed.
Scott Clavenna 12/4/2012 | 9:46:32 PM
re: Watch for the Grid Well, I didn't really get any of that post, but for more info on IBM's grid strategy, check out these: http://www-1.ibm.com/servers/e...



Vuja Dey 12/4/2012 | 9:46:31 PM
re: Watch for the Grid Scott - I totally got the first post, same old same old. Parallel computing over the Net? Been around for about 10 years at UC Berkeley probably other places as well.

Beowolf clusters are the hot thing not the Grid. (www.beowulf.org)There are groups of independant network engineers setting records every few weeks for bigger and better clusters, no thanks to big blue.

Games on the net? My 10 year old plays them all the time. Flash was the major advancement there.

BTW tried butterfly.com, their game isn't even up yet????

From a mkt guy who understands a new name for a (yawn) new, I mean, old thing.

Got something really cool?
NOKIA 12/4/2012 | 9:46:29 PM
re: Watch for the Grid Beowulf (circa 1994, NASA Goddard, Tom Sterling, Don Becker - Creators) have been around for a long while...

However,check out these grid applications - they'll eat up that Trans Atlantic glut in a NY second...


Vuja Dey 12/4/2012 | 9:46:24 PM
re: Watch for the Grid I checked out the demos, the few I tried all seemed to be off-line. Hmmm What I like about Beowulf is that it does NOT have the mkt spin.

Sorry but the Grid sounds too much like the Matrix. Will we see Keanu Reeves as the spokesperson? Agree that it does sound like a good distributed parallel processing system but so what?

Fundamentally don't see what is unique about it. What problem does it solve that other technologies can't?
WolfLarsen 12/4/2012 | 9:46:18 PM
re: Watch for the Grid "Games on the net? My 10 year old plays them all the time. Flash was the major advancement there."

Uh, no. Look into MMOG (massively-multiplayer online games).

see below for a couple of links. these games currently run with about 80,000 people on 24 hours a day. With a 10$ subcription fee per month, you are talking about a lot of money.

The games are rather addictive and with intense graphics you are looking at sustained high speed connections that require low latency.


D&K 12/4/2012 | 9:46:14 PM
re: Watch for the Grid Sorry it was the same old same old.

I am certainly tired of the same old same old.

My point and cause is this: The US of A has not made a hell of a lot of progress towards putting a high speed pipe in every garage. Until this brave new world is made available to all that might conceivably use it, we are doomed to more thrashing and nashing of resources in pursuit of something that only a few can use.

I see companies spread out all over this country in the styx that cannot even buy the kind of access they could use because they ain't sitting in downtown San Jose, CA.

All of these brilliant people haven't figured out where a market may really exist for something as simple as DSL or cable. The GRID? Good frigging luck. Until a larger entity takes on the risk (burden - economic or otherwise) of putting this country on the net en mass, the chances of pulling our brain-pans loose from our collective backsides with a resounding "pop" to the tune of the next killer app is akin to winning the lottery everyday.

There seems to be a large hunger out there for faster connections that exists in farmers, ranchers, even the peons of the countryside. They didn't get to play, they still don't

So if I buy a V.92 modem at a Staples in the woods of southwestern Oregon and fire it up to connect to a grid of faster and bigger apps does it make a sound when it pukes?

I think not. Do you get it now Scott?

Sorry, my soap box for this shit is getting pretty worn.

wilecoyote 12/4/2012 | 9:46:08 PM
re: Watch for the Grid I think finally there's a model for delivering IP oriented applications and services. This isn't something that's yesterday's news. Finally the applications are here that will make the "next gen network" profitable and truly useful.

This is why I like Force10 networks. They saw this before anyone else (almost two years ago)and have locked down the important design wins. They will win here. But the biggest winner is IBM.

Grid computing will deliver the distributed architecture envisioned by the builders of the web in the early 90s (Netscape, Sun, Cisco in my view). The carriers ain't gonna get it done. They can't get out of their own way. I can't wait to see more consolidation here because half the people employed in that industry a dumb ass blue collar clowns who can't spell "vision." The repair man that came into your house to install your DSL modem and scared your wife because he looked like a drug dealer? Picture him in a suit and you get the picture of the executive staff running the joint. Then you look at Palmisano and you see a kick ass executive on a mission. His background? Services. No comparison. Palmisano wins this fight. He can do whatever he wants now. He has the mass, the balance sheet, and the initiative. IBM takes over GE and wins the I/T battle hands down. So they have both sides: services and infrastructure.

Watch for 802.11x to deliver the pipe to the end user, and cable, dsl will help. Enterprises will have gig e to the desktop within two years, at critical masss, and peer to peer computing, web gaming, virtual learning, all kinds of interesting real time communications will finally start to happen.

IBM is unstoppable.

D&K 12/4/2012 | 9:45:43 PM
re: Watch for the Grid wiley e coyote = "super genius"

I like your vision and enthusiasm, mr. coyote. And I egree that Force10 has great vision and IBM will kick ass.

The problem lies in what services will be profitable.

If you were to kall your dear ole ma in in of them back-water, dumb-ass blue kollar towns on the latest video-fone, what will she see a picture of - will it be your mug-shot from the time you got busted by sherif Dilfinckle for tipping Mrs. O'Leary's kow?

There are a few thousand towns and wide spots in the road that have little or no infrastructure to participate in a GRID of any kind. A great deal f this country and the business that goes along with it resides there.

Get a location map for Walmart and draw circles of hundred mile diameter around those locations. Then take a look at the carriers of others providing services in those areas. Then look at what those services are running on.

Mr. coyote, much of what you mention already exists and some of it has been around since UNIX and ethernet were babies. That's longer than two years. Interesting real time traffic is happening right now - problem is most of us can't reach it.

Think bigger Mr. coyote, and watch out for that anvil.


D&K 12/4/2012 | 9:45:41 PM
re: Watch for the Grid Sorry for the lack of checking my last post, my mouse finger got a spasm and hit "Post Message" too quick like.

I happen to be in my own mind a "dumb-ass blue collar" kind of guy that could probably kick the crap out of Palmisano in arm wrestling or pig-catching or else something like that.

I also must add that I believe I can get Mr. coyote to devise an apparatus from Acme that we can use to attach dish reflectors to all of the rural-based cows, pigs, chickens, lamas, goats, sheep and horses for the proper use of 802.11x out here in the styx.

And everybody out here looks like a drug dealer causing we share our teefs.

Dumb & Korn-fed
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