ORACLEWORLD: Low cost, open systems key to grid success

SAN FRANCISCO – Neither Linux nor Intel are new, but combining the two will create a “disruptive technology” that will change computing rules and price propositions in the grid computing model, according to one analyst.

Framingham, Mass.-based IDC analyst Carl Olofson was one of five panelists who discussed the role of Linux in the grid on Wednesday morning at the annual OracleWorld conference.

Grid computing is made up of a “rich set of ironies,” Olofson said. For example, rather than adopting a completely new technology, Oracle is pushing Linux and Intel, which have both been around for at least 20 years.

“Linux is a long-standing movement – its base technology has been around even longer (than Intel),” Olafson said. While hardware components have been getting progressively faster and cheaper, on the software side, “there really isn’t a secret sauce anymore,” he added. “With Linux, there are a lot of smart people around the world putting their heads together” to write it.

Olofson called the move to the grid “the beginning of a phase of a journey that we’ve been on for a long time.” Moving to Linux on Intel will probably be smaller and less scary than other issues such as dealing with proprietary mainframes, the Unix and browser wars, and deciding between Ethernet and token-ring.

In the past, organizations have had to make a choice about which technologies they will adopt, while remaining aware of the possibility that they’ll have to “maintain systems that don’t have a future,” but Linux on Intel shouldn’t put IT departments in a precarious position, he said. “With open systems and commodity components, your bets are less risky and you have more choice.”

Olofson cautioned against comparing Linux to Unix, which started from the open systems movement, but was “quickly taken over by vendors,” causing fragmentation because it was used as a means of differentiation for those vendors. But firms touting Oracle’s grid message “recognize that at this point what the market wants is good hardware, not divergent operating systems.” By working together to promote Linux on the grid, they will avoid spoiling the process by “killing the goose that lays the golden egg.” For those vendors who promote Intel-based systems, pushing Linux “allows them to better manage the future of these systems,” Olofson said.

Ralph Smith of Burnaby, B.C.-based electronics retailer Best Buy told that his organization has already taken the first steps toward grid computing by setting up clusters of servers. Peter Wuerr, manager of Best Buy’s e-systems, said the Web site has to be up and running 24×7 – for now, that requires some sort of monitoring to be able to identify faults and take corrective action, he said.

“If we were to leverage Oracle’s grid environment, we would just step away from managing it all ourselves,” Smith said, adding that in theory, the grid would help reduce the approximately 15 minutes it would take to switch over from a corrupted or crashed database to an up-to-date back-up version.

The grid model assumes that an organization is already using a real application clusters (RAC) setup, which Best Buy is in the process of migrating to with some of its corporate applications, Smith said. In that sense, the grid concept could conceivably work for the retailer because some of its server clusters are dedicated to production or mission-critical applications, while others are found in the less-critical development and testing environment, he said.

“If we roll out RAC to our non-production environment, where there are often lots of resources sitting idle, our production environment could use some of those (non-production) resources during peak times,” Smith said. But that would require the company to “bite the bullet” and move both the production and non-production environments to RAC at the same time, which could be a “costly endeavour,” he added.

Meanwhile, Oracle’s executive vice-president of server technologies, Chuck Rozwat, announced in his Wednesday morning keynote that his firm plans to set up a new consortium in the hopes of coming out with a technology standard for grid computing in a commercial setting.

In a press Q&A session after the keynote, Rozwat told reporters that one of the current grid standards groups, the Global Grid Forum (GGF), has “focused on a lot of the scientific problems” connected to “distributing (computing power) across multiple organizations across the world.” This is mainly because the history of grid computing came out of the scientific community in the first place, Rozwat said. Meanwhile, Oracle’s vision of grid computing, which concentrates on the reallocation of resources within the enterprise, is not as much of a focus for the GGF.

Rozwat said Oracle’s initiative is not intented to compete with the GGF but to set up a commercially-focused grid forum made up of users and industry participants that will be able to help define the standards around grid computing in an enterprise context.

Rozwat said it was “premature to name any names” of potential participants in the new consortium. However, he hinted that the group would likely involve customers in the financial services and health care sectors, which have done some work with Linux, as well as “hardware companies that have gone well down the path with grid computing.”

Oracle has this week made several announcements surrounding grid computing. [Please see ORACLEWORLD: McNealy, Ellison talk grid; ORACLEWORLD: Oracle grid strategy unveiled; and Oracle to announce remote management tool.]