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IBM pitches 'grids' for businesses

As "grid computing" expands to the commercial world, Big Blue says that additions to its WebSphere server software will save customers money on underutilized hardware.

IBM on Monday plans to take the wraps off "grid" additions to its WebSphere server software that the company says will save customers money on underutilized hardware.

Computing grids, in which networked computers share the processing load for complex tasks, are being used primarily in academic environments. But IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems and other companies are looking to bring the grids to the commercial world.

Later this month, IBM expects to ship an update to its WebSphere software that will allow administrators to coordinate processing jobs across a cluster of interconnected servers. WebSphere version 5.02 includes a function that can monitor the workload on individual machines and tools to let administrators automatically shift the workload to other servers based on predefined criteria, such as a drop in application response time. WebSphere is IBM's Java-based server software for running custom business applications.

Much like academia, businesses can benefit from grid software by using it to distribute processing chores across idle or underutilized computers, according to Jerry Cuomo, an IBM distinguished engineer. Typically, businesses overinvest in the hardware required to run business applications because they buy enough computing horsepower to handle the peaks in the processing load. With more efficient use of resources allowed by grid software, companies can purchase fewer servers to accomplish the same task, he said.

For example, a business that runs two banking applications on a cluster of 40 machines could reduce the number of servers handling those two applications to 25 by reducing the amount of idle time across the cluster of servers, Cuomo said. With this first instance of grid capabilities in WebSphere, companies could easily boost their server utilization from 10 percent now to 25 percent with the grid software, he said.

"This is as basic addition to WebSphere. We're not suggesting that people make changes to WebSphere applications. This is an administrative change," Cuomo said.


With IBM and others on the move,
it's time for executives to get
realistic about grid's potential--
and its shortcomings.

In the next major version of WebSphere, due in about a year, IBM will add the ability to balance out computing jobs across several clusters of servers, rather than only a single cluster.

IBM is also actively looking to build connections between its grid software and software that it gained through the acquisition of ThinkDynamics earlier this year. The ThinkDynamics software, which will be incorporated into IBM's Tivoli systems management line, will allow a company to automatically provision servers, storage and software based on shifts in computing demand in a corporate data center, Cuomo said.

WebSphere Application Server version 5.02 is scheduled to become commercially available Friday for $30,000 per processor.