Grid Computing’s Identity Crisis

Hanoch Eiron, Open Grid Forum (OGF) vice president of marketing, recently contributed a special feature to GRIDtoday. Even though Eiron’s contribution spans a mere three paragraphs, there is ample content to comment on.

Eiron opens with:

Let’s face it — the Grid hype by commercial vendors in the past few years was premature. Some would say that it has actually slowed the development of grids as it created customer expectations that could not be met.

IBM’s arrival on the Grid Computing scene, publically marked by their endorsement of the Open Source Globus Toolkit, signified the dawn of vendor-generated hype. However long before IBM sought to paint Grid Computing blue, it was Global Grid Forum (GGF) and Globus Project representatives who were the source of hype. Back in these BBB (Before Big Blue) days, academic gridders evangelized that Grid Computing represented the next phase in the ongoing evolution of Distributed Computing. And specifically with respect to Grid Computing standards and the Globus Toolkit:

This evolution in standards has wreaked havoc on the implementation front. For example, in moving from Versions 2 (protocol-specific implementation based on FTP, HTTP, LDAP, etc.) to 3 (introduction of Web services via OGSI) to 4 (refinement of previously introduced OGSI Web Services to WS-RF), the Open Source Globus Toolkit has undergone significant changes. When such changes break forward-compatibility in subsequent versions of the software, standards evolution becomes an impediment to adoption.

For a specific example, consider CERN’s gamble with Grid Computing:

The standards flux, that resulted in evolving variants of the Globus Toolkit, caused CERN and its affiliates some grief for at least two reasons.

  • First, projects like the LHC require significant advance planning. Evolving standards and implementations make advance planning even more challenging, and the allusions to gambling quite appropriate.
  • Second, despite the fact that CERN’s primary activity is academic research, CERN needs to provide a number of production-quality services. Again, such service levels are difficult to deliver on when standards and implementations are in a state of continuous change.

In other words, it’s not just vendors who have been guilty of hype and over-promising on deliverables.

Later in his first paragraph, Eiron states: “… it is clear that from a public perception standpoint, grids are now in a trough.” I couldn’t agree more. As the recent GridWorld event has ably demonstrated, considerable confusion exists about Grid Computing. Newbies, early adopters and even the Griderati, are uncomfortable with the term, unclear on what it means and how it fits into the broader context of clustering, cyberinfrastructure, Distributed Computing, High Performance Computing (HPC), Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), Utility Computing, virtualization, Web Services, etc. (That adaptive enterprise and autonomic computing don’t receive much play is of mild consolation.) Grid Computing is in a trough because it is suffering from a serious identity crisis. Fortunately, Eiron and OGF are not in denial, and have plans to address this situation.

Eiron refers to Grid Computing’s latest poster child, eBay. And although I haven’t had the benefit of a deep dive on the technical aspects of the eBay Grid, I expect it to be a grid more in positioning than substance. In a GRIDtoday Q&A with Paul Strong, distinguished research scientist at eBay Research Labs, there is evidence of cluster-level workload management, clustered databases, farms of Web servers, and other examples of Distributed Computing technologies. However, nothing that Strong discusses seems that griddy. All of this echoes what I wrote previously in a GRIDtoday article:

The highest-profile demonstrations of Grid computing run the risk of trivializing Grid computing. It may seem harsh to paint the well-intentioned World Community Grid as technologically trivial, but in terms of full disclosure, this is not the most sophisticated demonstration of Grid computing. Equally damaging are those clustered applications (like Oracle 10g) that masquerade as Grid-enabled. Taking such license serves only to confuse and dilute the very essence of Grid computing.

Eiron’s own words serve well in summing up here:

Is it clear that the community needs to do a better job of explaining the role of grids within the landscape of close and perhaps somewhat overlapping technologies, such as virtualization, services-oriented architecture (SOA), automation, etc. The Grid community also needs to better articulate how the architectures, industry standards and products can help customers reap the benefits of grids. It can use the perception trough as an opportunity to re-group and create a solid story that can be delivered upon, or morph into something else. It seems that much of the influence on how things will evolve is now in the Grid community’s own hands.

Of course, only time will tell if this window of opportunity is still open, and if the Grid Computing community is able to capitalize on it.


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