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New Consortium Promotes Grid Computing For Businesses

Road map for the consortium calls for developing a bug-fixing service and new systems-management software.

A group of technology companies including Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, and Sun Microsystems Monday said they've formed a new consortium to develop and promote grid-computing software for businesses.

The group, called the Globus Consortium, will try to promote industry standards and develop new features for grid-computing software that would make it more attractive to large companies. HP, IBM, Intel, and Sun have invested $250,000 each, according to Ian Foster, a consortium board member who helped develop the original grid-computing software, the Globus Toolkit. Foster is a senior scientist at Argonne National Lab and a computer science professor at the University of Chicago. The other participants in the consortium are Nortel Networks and Univa Corp., a startup formed last month by Foster, the University of Southern California's Carl Kesselman, and former Argonne manager Steve Tuecke. Those companies each put up $35,000, according to Foster.

Grid computing, which can give scientists and engineers access to powerful computers over the Internet, has gained popularity in recent years as research labs and some companies in sectors including design and manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, finance, and oil exploration want to run extremely complex computer programs that can be distributed among many machines, some of which may be in another location. By aggregating the computations performed by these machines and delivering an answer to a user's desktop computer, teams can run their programs on a kind of virtual supercomputer without the expense of purchasing one. One popular way of doing that has been using the Globus software. A fourth version of the open-source program is due in April, Foster says.

Grid computing and an offshoot, called "server virtualization," are creating new markets for hardware, software, and computer services. Market research company IDC says worldwide revenue for virtualization software, for example, grew 25% last year, compared with 2003. HP, IBM, and Sun all sell packages of hardware, software, and consulting that can help companies build grids.

Foster and Tuecke will develop the Globus Consortium's technology road map, which Foster says will include developing a bug-fixing service for companies and new systems-management software, porting the Globus Toolkit to new operating systems, and integrating the toolkit with commercial enterprise-resource-planning software.

One company that's absent from the new consortium is Microsoft, which also has an interest in helping companies gang together large groups of Windows computers for performing high-performance computing tasks. The company last fall said it's developing a high-performance computing version of Windows, and has in the past funded research to determine how well the widely used Globus Toolkit software would run on Windows. But Globus only runs today with limited capabilities on Windows, Foster says. "That needs to be addressed, especially when you talk to ISVs, who'll be a major driver for grid computing," he says.

But Microsoft doesn't appear to be headed in that direction. Charles Fitzgerald, a Microsoft general manager, says customers "don't need the Globus Toolkit to do high-performance compute clusters," and called the open-source toolkit a "half-baked implementation."

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