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Grid Computing

Spending less money on IT is a compelling business proposition

Grid computing is slowly moving out of R&D labs and providing value for enterprises. Its growing popularity is evident with major vendors bringing out enterprise grid solutions. Anil Patrick R talks to Amit Zaveri, Senior Director, Server Technologies, Oracle India, to get an insight into Oracle's take on grid computing.

Can you describe grid computing in simple terms?

Grid computing is the pooling of all IT resources into a single set of shared services for all enterprise-computing needs. Grid computing infrastructure continually analyses demand for resources and adjusts supply accordingly.

You don’t have to worry about where your data resides or which computer processes your request. You request information or computing power and have it delivered—as much as you want, whenever you want. This is similar to the way electric utilities work, in that you don’t know where the generator is or how the electric grid is wired. You just ask for electricity and get it.

Grid computing is the latest development in an evolution that earlier brought forth advances such as distributed computing, the World Wide Web and collaborative computing. Academic and government researchers have used it for several years to solve large-scale problems.

What are the basic tenets that grid computing is based on?

Two core tenets uniquely distinguish grid computing from other styles of computing such as mainframe, client-server or multi-tier. These are virtualisation and provisioning.

With virtualisation, individual resources (such as computers, disks, application components and information sources) are pooled together by type. These are then made available to consumers (for example, people or software programmes) through an abstraction. Virtualisation means breaking hard-coded connections between providers and consumers of resources, and preparing a resource to serve a particular need without the consumer caring how that is accomplished.

With provisioning, when consumers request resources through a virtualisation layer, a specific resource is identified to fulfil the request and then it’s allocated to the consumer. Provisioning as part of grid computing means that the system determines how to meet the specific needs of the consumer, while optimising performance of the system as a whole. The specific ways in which information, application or infrastructure resources are virtualised and provisioned are specific to the type of resource, but the basic concepts are common. Similarly, the specific benefits derived from grid computing are particular to each type of resource, but all share the characteristics of better quality, lower costs and increased flexibility.

What are the advantages that will drive adoption of grid computing in Indian organisations?

We feel that grid technology will pick up phenomenally in India because spending less money on IT is a compelling business proposition. Grid computing, with its emphasis on lowering the cost of IT, is attractive to companies of all sizes, including the mid-market, which forms a significant proportion of our customers.

We envision grid computing to become a critical component of the IT infrastructure of industries. Grids could allow the analysis of huge investment portfolios in minutes instead of hours, accelerate drug development in the pharmaceutical sector, and reduce design time and defects in the manufacturing sector. With computing cycles plentiful and inexpensive, practical grid computing would open the door to new models for compute utilities.

A much larger body of scientific and engineering applications stands to benefit from grid computing. This includes weather forecasting, financial and mechanical modelling, immunology, circuit simulation, aircraft design, fluid mechanics and almost any problem that is mathematically equivalent to a flow.

Enterprise grid computing lowers costs by:

  • Increasing hardware utilisation and resource sharing.
  • Enabling companies to scale out incrementally with low-cost components.
  • Reducing management and administration requirements.

Enterprise grid computing pools IT resources into a single shared service that continually analyses demand for resources and adjusts supply accordingly. Grid computing provides the following benefits:

  • Flexibility to meet changing business needs
  • Highest quality of service at the lowest cost
  • Investment protection and rapid return

What do you expect the roadmap of grid computing in the enterprise to be? Will it catch up this year?

Many vendors are leaping on to the grid computing bandwagon and adding to the hype surrounding it. Oracle strongly advocates that a sense of reality should take over.

Companies must realise that moving to grid computing is similar to a journey that begins with a single step. In the future, an increasing number of companies will join those who are already on the way to realising the immense benefits accruing from grid computing.

Are there any generic architectures/frameworks for grid computing?

Different vendors put forward different frameworks. With Oracle, the grid computing model is based on what we call the “Shared Everything” framework. This means that all the computing resources, be it hardware, storage or software, work on an active-active shared basis. This allows for increased availability and more optimal usage of resources.

What is the role that middleware has to play in enabling grid computing?

Many vendors interested in grid computing have been focussed on grid resource management as it applies to computers, storage, networking and operating systems. Middleware vendors and application vendors have been separately pursuing the grid computing ideals in the domain of applications, under the designation of Web services and Service-Oriented Architecture. These two worlds are now converging, however.

Web services standards have emerged as the common basis to support language-independent message delivery for all types of resources. New grid standards, defined by the Global Grid Forum, are building on Web services standards as outlined by W3C and OASIS.

Application resources in the grid are the business logic and process flows that are the components of application software. These resources may be in packaged applications or custom applications, and they may be written in any programming language. For example, the software that takes an order from a customer and sends an acknowledgement, the process that prints payroll cheques, and the logic that routes a particular customer call to a particular agent are all application resources.

Virtualisation of application resources involves publishing application components as services for use by multiple consumers, which may be people or processes. Orchestration is the provisioning of those services into more powerful business flows. For example, the business flow of preparing for a new employee could be orchestrated by combining the following processes: create a user in the HR system, create a new e-mail account, order a computer, set up phone and voicemail, and deliver a welcome kit.

The key is that these individual processes can be exposed as services completely independent from each other than integrated easily. In the same way that grid computing enables better reuse and more flexibility of IT infrastructure resources, grid computing also treats application components as resources. Then, by publishing and orchestrating these resources into more complex business flows, grid computing enables greater reuse of application functionality and more flexibility in changing and building new composite applications.

Are there any factors or mental blocks that will set back the adoption of enterprise grids?

Some issues need to be ironed out to accelerate grid adoption. One of them is the availability of high-speed links to permit remote users to talk to the central database and the sunk cost in a heterogeneous environment.

For example, an enterprise with hardware running different operating systems cannot get these boxes talking to each other in a grid as the technology stands today due to firmware differences. Once the hardware vendors agree on and implement certain standards in this regard, we can expect to see this resistance come down.

In some cases, there may exist some mental blocks pertaining to perceived loss of control and security issues, perceptions of single point of failure and so on. Mostly, these stem from a lack of knowledge and can be addressed through appropriate education.

Anil Patrick R can be reached at

anilpatrick@networkmagazineindia.com

 
     
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