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New Grid Computing Tools Are Here, But When Will Interest Perk Up?

Three years ago, Bill Gates called grid computing "the Holy Grail of computer science." But corporate America's been reluctant to run the grid software that's caught hold in education and research. That could change with this week's release of the Globus Toolkit 4, open-source software that's supposed to fuse grid computing and Web-services standards-and provide a big reliability boost for grids. On Monday, the Globus Alliance, a team of academic and government-funded computer scientists, relea

Three years ago, Bill Gates called grid computing "the Holy Grail of computer science." But corporate America's been reluctant to run the grid software that's caught hold in education and research. That could change with this week's release of the Globus Toolkit 4, open-source software that's supposed to fuse grid computing and Web-services standards-and provide a big reliability boost for grids.

On Monday, the Globus Alliance, a team of academic and government-funded computer scientists, released version 4 of the Globus Toolkit, an app dev environment for grids published under an open-source license. Using Globus, developers can build apps that let users run their programs on remote computers more powerful than what might exist in house, with programming conventions that make it look like those machines live under their roof. It's a great concept, one heartily embraced by researchers at universities and government labs in the United States and abroad. For-profit companies have been more skeptical.Even though the toolkit provides mechanisms for controlling who accesses what, businesses have taken a wait-and-see approach to global grids built with Globus, opting for arguably less-powerful commercial tools. They're skeptical of the new technology since it involves giving people who aren't on their payroll access to their computers. Balky quality and lack of compatibility with Web-services standards haven't helped either, as I reported in an InformationWeek story in February.

Globus version 4 is supposed to correct those problems, improving quality thanks to a long-form beta program, adding standard APIs for getting data in and out of grids, and employing a software layer called the Web Services Resource Framework that does a better job adhering to industry standards than version 3, released nearly two years ago, did. "For the first time it's of a quality we feel comfortable telling people is ready for enterprise use," Ian Foster, a senior scientist at Argonne National Lab and a University of Chicago professor who co-created the software, told me in an interview last week.

But wait, as they say, there's more. Experts I've talked to tell me the Globus Toolkit 4 should work better with popular software development tools. A history of less-than-business-grade-quality, do-it-yourself tech support, and the lack of a Windows version has held back grid adoption, Globus style. Now, Univa Corp., a private company spun off from the Globus open-source project to fix bugs and provide tech support to companies, is closing in on Series A financing by the end of next month, Univa CEO Steve Tuecke told me. And Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, and Sun Microsystems have each ponied up a quarter million dollars to fund the Globus Consortium, which aims to integrate Globus with ERP apps, port it to Windows, and shore up interop with clustering and identity-management software.

According to Foster, IBM plans to release a supported version of GT4 this fall as part of its Grid Toolbox product, and Intel is using version 4 for in-house grids. Given the new and improved Globus, should your company be next?

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