IBM Package Expand Grids on Linux (and Elsewhere)
SMBs Get Grid, Too
In a move hailed by some analysts as an "industry first," IBM has rolled out the Grid and Grow offering, an attempt to expand the market for grid computing on Linux and other platforms with flexible, preconfigured bundles of hardware, middleware and services priced as low as US$49,000.
"Many companies recognize the advantages of grid computing, but they also perceive it as complex. They're willing to put in a Linux-based environment, but they want to introduce (the new operating environment) in a nondisruptive way," according to Al Bunshaft, IBM's VP of sales and business development for IBM's Grid and Virtualization arm.
Users can either run Grid and Grow as a standalone blade center or attach the preconfigured grid to their existing systems, Bunshaft said, during an interview with LinuxPlanet.
The package includes services--delivered by IBM Global Services and its PartnerWorld SI (systems integrator) allies--around planning and deploying the new computing environment.
Early customers of Grid and Grow run the gamut from the US Navy to a large financial services firm, Bunshaft said.
The financial firm is running a Linux grid as a failover disaster recovery system alongside a large, Unix-based SMP system from Sun.
But until now, most Linux-based grids have appeared at the top end of the marketplace, said Joe Claby, VP and practice director at Summit Strategies, in another interview.
"To date, grids have achieved varying degrees of acceptance in several markets," according to Claby.
"These include, in generally declining levels of maturity: research and development (used to share data/computing power for research-intensive applications); engineering and design (for sharing data/computing power for engineering/scientific applications); business analytics (used for comprehensive business planning and analysis); enterprise optimization (used to improve utilization, efficiency and business continuity); and government development (for driving government economic development and for providing new government services," Claby wrote in a recent report.
Claby told LinuxPlanet that Grid and Grow represents an attempt by IBM to migrate grid computing to the midrange market.
"IBM's been 'doing grid' for quite a while. But until now, they've taken a very vertical approach," concurred Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, during another interview.
King pointed to several specification applications for grid computing that are already in place, including risk assessment modeling in financial services; number crunching in oil and gas exploration; direct discovery in genetic modeling; and high-end CAD design at manufacturing firms.
"Essentially, grid (computing) provides the same ability to share processing power as supercomputing," King told LinuxPlanet.
In comparison to supercomputers, however, grids do have some processing limitations, the analyst added. "If you 'need it right away,' you might want to try a supercomputer instead."
As King sees it, IBM's Grid and Grow Offering will hold the greatest appeal for two types of deployments: small companies looking for a dedicated grid environment, and larger organizations that want to experiment with grid computing before moving into production.
"These (larger) organizations might not know much about grids. Or, they might be hesitant about actually deploying grids, or about training their IT staffs in grid," King elaborated.
But interest in grids is definitely rising, according to research cited by Summit Strategies' Claby. In a report published in August of this year, Summit Strategies found that eight percent of respondents already had grid computing in "general operational use."
Exactly16 percent were currently evaluating grids for use within the next 12 months, and another 28 percent planned to evaluate grids within the next one to three years.
IBM is hardly alone in wanting to attract new customers to grid computing, according to Claby. Just for starters, large systems competitors such as Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Sun and Silicon-Graphics are also pursuing grid and blade strategies.
"(But) while several vendors offer grid and blade solutions, IBM is the first to provide a packaged, integrated, grid/blade solution," according to the analyst.
"With this packaging IBM plans to (1) help stimulate commercial adoption of grid with a simple, affordable introduction to the technology; (2) address a gap in he market at the low end of the grid computing spectrum; (3) introduce a high volume, repeatable, easily deployable solution that demonstrates business improvements and high growth through grid computing; and (4) enable customers to adopt and capitalize on more robust technology and industry solutions."
King noted that--along with Oracle, Intel, and storage vendor EMC--Dell is participating in a joint venture called MegaGrid.
"But 'clusters' is really a more accurate description of MegaGrid than 'grid.' MegaGrid can be deployed for grid computing--but only if you use Oracle's grid scheduler, and (Oracle's) product that hasn't had much impact," he maintained.
"In a cluster environment, you can reallocate processors and servers. But a grid goes a step beyond that to automatically schedule workloads and distribute them across the grid--so that heavy loads are done when the system is at low capacity, for example," he told LinuxPlanet.
For his part, IBM's Bunshaft pointed to flexibility and high quality services as setting IBM's new Grid and Grow Offering apart from the rest of the pack.
IBM Grid and Grow gives customers choices in terms of numbers of blades (seven to 14); operating environment (Red Hat or Novell SuSE Linux, Windows, or AIX licenses); type of blade (Intel Xeon, AMD, or IBM Power); and grid scheduler (IBM Loadleveler; Platform LSF, Altair PBS Pro, or DataSynapse GridServer).
"Most customers will probably start out with seven blades. That way, the system is half-populated, leaving the other half for expansion," Bunshaft predicted.
Each blade comes with two CPUs and 2 GB memory. The BladeCenter chassis and servers also include a management console; Gigabit Ethernet; and a redundant power supply.
Some users--particularly in automotive and other industrial markets--might already be deploying Platform's grid scheduler, Bunshaft observed.
On the other hand, DataSynapse is well established in financial fields, and Altair gets widespread use in engineering.
IBM Grid and Grow also provides IBM Director, CMS, and Tivoli Provisioning Manager software, along with a wide variety of I/O interconnects.
Meanwhile, Intel--a "collaborator" in Grid and Grow--is supporting the offering by providing education through its business channel, joint customer engagements, and solutions blueprints.
"Our single most powerful differentiator is services. IBM Global Services has already built hundreds of grids around the world, developing skills in application assessment, planning, installation, tuning, testing, and client training," according to the IBM exec.
Through IBM's PartnerWorld, IBM Global Services also works with a team of SI partners dedicated to grid computing, he said.
"Hardware margins are getting squeezed, and (grid computing) gives (the IBM channel) a chance to (improve) their margins," according to Bunshaft.
"Our partner ecosystem is expanding, and we're looking for more partners who have the skills in middleware and other software that are needed for grid computing."