Girding for grids

Steve Hamm

With Red Hat, the leading Linux distributor, hitting balls out of the park left and right, it's no wonder that its business model holds attraction for other startups. The latest I have come across is Univa Corp., a months-old Chicago-based startup that's trying to do for grid computing what Red Hat has done for PC servers. Univa takes the open-source Globus Toolkit, which is used for stitching together vast armies of servers, and packages it as a product suite and service suitable for the needs of large corporations. Univa picked up a huge credibility boost Oct. 3 when IBM adopted the its technology as a core piece of its grid computing offering.

This isn't just an important step for Univa. It's crucial for the future of open-standards-based grid computing--which, in my view--is the best kind. For most of the past decade, grid computing as been the province of academics and scientists. They loop together dozens or hundreds or even thousands of computers and solve compute-intensive problems relatively cheaply. But in the past couple of years, pharma companies, oil exploration firms, and other commercial ventures with big computing jobs have started using grids. Globus, developed by scientists at the Argonne National Lab, is the primary tool used by academics for their grids. It's used in more than 1,000 projects. But, for the technology to be adopted by corporations, it had to be turned into a commercial product with a company standing behind it. Now it has two: One little one and one big one.

In Univa's case, the founders aren't just ambitious fans of the core technology. They built it. Steve Tuecke, Ian Foster, and Carl Kesselman were the original architects of Globus. "Companies need to have a purveyor and a neutral arbiter. We're the gurus, so it makes sense for us to do this," says Tuecke.

Univa plans on delivering its first product before the end of the year. It has already done some consulting jobs to help it learn what corporations want and to test out its technology. It also got $8 million in venture capital in August.

There's a pretty good chance that Globus will become the commercial standard for grids, but it's not a sure thing. A bunch of heavy hitters, including IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Sun, Intel, Cisco, and Nortel, have formed the Globus Consortium to advance the standard. And mighty SAP, the leader in corporate software applications, has demonstrated grid technology based on Globus. But Oracle Corp., the leading database software vendor, is using its own proprietary technology to loop together database grids. It's not clear to me where Microsoft stands. Globus works with Linux, Windows, and other operating systems.

I wasn't able to get Oracle on the phone on short notice to talk about this. They must have perfectly legit reasons for going their route. But, since Oracle is the most aggressive marketer of grid technology, it's too bad that they aren't using Globus as their core technology. Ultimately, it seems to me, that would be the best route to quick and effective grid adoption.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.