Computing grids are software engines that pool together and manage resources from isolated systems to form a new type of low-cost supercomputer. In spite of their usefulness, grids remained the plaything of researchers for many years. But now, in 2005, grids have finally come of age and are becoming increasingly commercialized.

Sun Microsystems recently unveiled a new grid computing offering that promises to make purchasing computer time over a network as easy as buying electricity and water. Even Microsoft is said to be investing in grids and Sony has grid-enabled its PlayStation 3 for movie-like graphics.

As interest in these distributed technologies grow, so does the probability for disinformation. With that in mind, BetaNews sat down with some of the world’s leading grid guru’s, Dr. Ian Foster and Steve Tuecke, to set the record straight and divorce grid hype from grid reality.

BetaNews: Since we last spoke in 2001, what significant developments have there been in the commercialization of grid technologies?

Dr. Ian Foster: Back then we were just seeing earlier interest in grid technologies from companies like IBM etc. Since then we have seen tremendous growth and enthusiasm. And a lot of things are being labeled as grid that perhaps one could argue they are not. Perhaps they are more, in some cases, computing cluster management solutions, but also some substantial early deployments in the industry from companies like IBM and Sun, and others like HP and so forth.

Then more recently we have seen Univa being created, which I am involved as founder and advisor. I primarily focus on the open source software side. And that is significant because it represents a step forward on the transfer to the commercial side of this open source grid technology, which is going to be important as a means of building the standards-based systems that are required for broad deployment.

The other thing that you may have come across just recently is the Globus Consortium and this is a set of four major participants: HP, Intel, IBM and Sun; focused on advanced commercial use of Globus software.

BetaNews: Speaking of IBM, it claims to have grid-enabled much of its product line.

Foster: I think things are not quite as simple as that. IBM has a product called the IBM Grid Toolbox, which is basically Globus with some IBM enhancements or add-ons. They have done a fair bit of business based on that, using that technology to federate storage and computing resources within various industries. At the same time, when they say they grid-enabled WebSphere, for example, what they mean more is that they modified WebSphere to run on a cluster, I believe. So I do not think that the grid-enabled WebSphere at present is using Globus technologies.

BetaNews: Is that what you meant about mislabeling clustering as grid?

Foster: The key thing we are trying to achieve with grid is federating resources, breaking down the silo boundaries that are making computing more expensive or less reliable when it shouldn’t be. And there are of course a number of ways of skinning the cat. So at the moment, in the absence of some of the necessary standards, first of all you see low ambition solutions that are already focused on clusters; other solutions that may extend across clusters that are more proprietary in nature; and lastly where we are moving — with recent work on standards with the open source software basis — towards larger scale federation and standards base federation. And those are the two things that the Globus software is about.

More here.