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GGF18: Grid in the Enterprise?

This morning's sessions at GGF18 in Washington showed the interesting contrast between the academic and commercial ideas of what "Grid computing" means. The academic view came from Ian Foster's classic paper, The Anatomy of the Grid, which was referenced by Dan Atkins of the USA National Science Foundation in his keynote speech. This view stresses the importance of a Virtual Organisation - a group of people from different organisations working together on a project or task. The term "Virtual Organisation" comes from business economics, so is not unknown to the commercial world - classic examples are the supply chain of a manufacturing process or the various organisations working together on a civil engineering project - but in the Grid world, VOs are more commonly seen in science Grids.

The commercial view was presented during the session on Enterprise Grid Requirements. Paul Strong of Ebay put it clearly: the focus is on removing silos between sub-organisations and replacing dedicated servers with virtualised resources. The approach is the same as the science use case: virtualisation of resources, heterogeneity, dynamic mapping of application instances, hot deployment of services - all the technologies that form what I call Computing as commodity. The difference is that these might all be deployed within a single enterprise; virtual organisations are possible but not necessary.

I believe these differences arise from the contrasting natures of the communities. In the academic world it is now common to use Beowulf clusters as high-performance compute resources and these really don't bring much new to the IT world. They take "jobs" from a queue and run them on multiple processors in much the same way as "traditional" supercomputers. So Foster's definition stresses the difference from such systems, focusing on collaboration between different organisations. The commercial world often has multiple machines and servers running within a single organisation. Virtualising these is qualitatively different from running a Beowulf cluster and so the Grid metaphor is more appropriate.


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