November 2005
E-Infrastructure: Europe Meets the e-Science Challenge
Mark Parsons, NextGRID Project Chairman

Do we really need a next generation of the Grid?

To some people it seems premature to talk of the next generation of the Grid when in many cases the Grid has yet to deliver according to its original vision. Grid research has come a long way since it was originally mooted–in terms analogous to the electric power grid–as an infrastructure that was always-on and delivered chargeable access to compute, data and other resources when and wherever they were required. Pioneering projects, largely science-based, in Europe, the US and Asia have demonstrated the positive benefits afforded by large-scale, widely distributed computation and data access and such projects are now undertaking previously impracticable scientific research. This is particularly true in the health sector where some large cancer research projects are now gathering speed and will hopefully afford real benefits and breakthroughs across society.

However, although the Grid can be said to be delivering in a scientific context, the same is not true in the business domain. Visit any investment bank in the United Kingdom and they will (privately) talk proudly of the success of their Grid. In reality, they are actually talking about the success of their clustered computing approach. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, the hijacking of the “Grid” word by over-eager vendor marketing departments following the dot com bubble in the early part of this decade has confused may potential users about what the Grid is really for–inter-enterprise, joined-up computing. Secondly, and more importantly, the Grid used and promulgated by the science and research communities does not take into account the typical regulatory and management issues faced by many industries. Unless the Grid can be seen to offer real benefits to business it will remain a powerful tool for science and will be largely ignored by business, except in its simplest application server and clustered computing form. In the worst case we will see a complete divergence in Grid computing between science and business.

It doesn’t have to be like this.

It is very easy to complain that the Grid to date has failed to link its developments to the real needs of its users. In the scientific domain this simply is not true. Wide-ranging requirements-gathering activities have taken place and will continue. These activities have helped to guide the development of the tools most needed by these programmes of scientific research. In most cases these are programmes of research where a specific end-point is reasonably clear, and the main motivation for using Grids is to collaborate in order to pool resources. In the business domain, the requirements that Grids have to meet are far broader and more varied. A wide variety of projects, notably in the UK and Europe, have been undertaken, and there have been many notable demonstrations of the efficacy of Grids both in the cluster and broader Grid contexts. However, these projects did not produce universal solutions spanning many business applications, because different solutions were required in each case. For example, the GRASP project used “traditional” academic Grid principles to support resource sharing within a cooperative of application service providers, providing higher performance and reliability for ASP services, but requiring mutual trust between the providers. The GRIA project implemented an inter-enterprise collaboration infrastructure allowing the users to pool resources obtained on commercial terms from independent service providers. The GEMSS project took a similar approach for medical simulation services, but resources from different service providers cannot be pooled in a single application because that would make it very difficult to meet European privacy regulations for processing patient data.

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Reference this article
Parsons, M. "The Next Generation Grid ," CTWatch Quarterly, Volume 1, Number 4, November 2005. http://www.ctwatch.org/quarterly/articles/2005/11/the-next-generation-grid/

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