Vendors join to support open-source grid development

Von Patrick Thibodeau

A decision by major enterprise vendors last week to put money and technical support behind open-source grid development was cautiously welcomed by users and analysts. Most of those interviewed said they will hold their applause until they see some results.

IBM Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Intel Corp. formed the Globus Consortium to jointly work to improve the Globus Toolkit, the open-source development project of the Chicago-based Globus Alliance. The companies" aim is to improve the tool kit"s code and readiness for commercial adoption, an effort the tool kit"s developers say is needed.

Getting the four companies involved in the project "is good, as long as they adhere to the open-source mentality," said Ian Penny, who is responsible for data center technology development at New York-based pharmaceutical maker Pfizer Inc. "It will encourage users to adopt it as a standards-based platform." Pfizer uses grid computing in drug research, and Penny has been active in the Globus Alliance.

Initial optimism

"My first impression is that (the new industry group) is probably a good thing," said Bill Olson, vice president of engineering at Iron Mountain Inc. "The more stable (the Globus Toolkit) is, the more attractive it becomes."

Iron Mountain, a Boston-based data-protection firm that uses grid technology in its database management, is interested in using the tool kit.

Ian Foster, who heads the distributed systems lab at Argonne National Laboratory in Argonne, Ill., and who led the team that developed the Globus Toolkit, said the vendors "want to see the software move forward faster than what is possible by volunteers."

Foster is also a founder of Elmhurst, Ill.-based Univa Corp., which was formed last year to develop products and services based on the Globus open-source standards. Univa is also a member of the Globus Consortium.

The consortium"s "goal is to proactively address the issue of grid computing in enterprises," said Greg Nawrocki, who will lead the industry group. "Our belief is that open-source is the key to grid in the enterprise."

Initially, the consortium will develop a priority bug-fixing scheme for the tool kit, and other development efforts will be detailed later. Nawrocki coordinated Globus Toolkit-based application projects at Argonne National Laboratory. He"s currently on extended leave from the lab to head the consortium.

Jonathan Eunice, an analyst at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H., said users can welcome the arrival of the Globus Consortium while remaining skeptical of its ultimate plans.

"There is no reason not to welcome an organization that is committed to further developing standards and further building enterprise computing atop vibrant standards and compatible implementations," said Eunice. However, he added, "the proof is in the pudding." Users should judge the group on the results of its efforts rather than rejoice at its formation, Eunice said.

William Fellows, an analyst at The 451 Group in New York, said the consortium might strengthen Globus as well as its open-source efforts.

Fellows said that grid users see "a need for a single set of grid standards, not multiple standards or stacks; common APIs for developers to write to; (and) standard ways of getting data into and out of grids."