Big Blue tackles new grid-computing services

IBM unveils services for grid and autonomic computing that will ideally let large institutions run their most complex applications more efficiently.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
3 min read
IBM has unveiled services for grid and autonomic computing that will, ideally, let large institutions run their most complex applications more efficiently.

The services are designed to let corporations or research labs better harness servers, employees and other information technology resources for big tasks. Wall Street companies, for instance, run elaborate financial simulations to gauge the impact of certain investment patterns or economic changes. These simulations can take several hours, if confined to a few servers. By putting these applications on a grid that harvests idle processor cycles and memory across a corporation, the simulation can be completed in a few minutes.

"There are a lot of underutilized resources they can tap into," said Dan Powers, vice president of grid strategy and business development at IBM. ?People have got applications that in many cases they want to run in more locations or quicker."

Printing giant Bowne & Co., an early IBM pilot customer, said it has seen a 50 percent improvement in performance by putting its Statements application, which churns out financial reports, on a grid.

Grid computing and autonomic computing are two major thrusts for IBM and in some ways are inextricably linked.

Grid computing links disparate hardware and software resources, often in geographically distant offices, into a cohesive whole.

Get Up to Speed on...
Utility computing
Get the latest headlines and
company-specific news in our
expanded GUTS section.

Autonomic computing attempts to automate as much of the manual labor for managing the hardware and software on a grid as possible. Currently, adding a new server to a grid can require that an administrator order, configure, test and connect the new box. Some chief information officers estimate that 70 percent to 80 percent of their budgets get consumed through management tasks, Powers said.

With autonomic tools such as IBM Intelligent Orchestrator, a new server can be allocated to a project automatically. Autonomic technologies can also warn of hard-drive failures and other hardware problems.

Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems and others are also participating in this market. IBM, though, says it has a heft that can be tough to compete against. Approximately 2,000 IBM employees, from both IBM Global Services and IBM?s various research groups, are participating in creating these services.

These services include IBM Grid Value at Work. This service, which emerged from IBM Research, analyzes the costs and financial impact of moving to grid computing. It estimates the resources required and runs different scenarios to estimate what a grid project might look like and cost three to four years down the line.

Another approach is Grid Solution Deployment Services, in which consultants develop an integration plan and deploy grid and autonomic technologies.

Invite Michael Kanellos into your in-box
Senior department editor Michael Kanellos scrutinizes the hardware industry in a weekly column that ranges from chips to servers and other critical business systems. Enterprise Hardware every Wednesday.

While companies that hire IBM to develop grids will invariably buy new software or hardware, these deals largely revolve around services. Powers declined to state the size of these deals. In general, a service deal can run well into the six-figure range, but profits can be squeezed by the cost of consultants.

Currently, IBM?s Global Services division is one of the fastest-growing groups in the company, but its gross margins are lower than any other group, including hardware and financing.

Grid computing, Powers added, is growing in popularity. IBM has on average about 100 grid projects at any given time, he said.