HP quietly updates the Grid

While the blood-and-guts shareholder proxy battle over Hewlett-Packard's proposed merger with Compaq Computer has raged over the past few months, a team at HP Labs kept busy in the backroom building some interesting new grid computing technology. The effort culminated last week as HP unveiled plans to offer the HP Utility Data Center (UDC).

HP officials describe the HP UDC as a software/services combination designed to "virtualize" a data center, allowing resources to be directed at will to meet the shifting demands of individual applications. The UDC, combined with its Utility Controller Software, can create and run virtual IT environments as highly automated services, HP officials said.

The distributed or "grid" computing model seeks to harvest the processing power of tens of thousands of idle machines via a high-speed IP-switched fabric -- much more than can be supplied by the thousands of servers comprising a typical corporate data center today.

Recent uses of the grid-computing model centered mainly on technical and scientific applications. The SETI@Home project, for example, marshals the unused computing cycles of a global network of volunteer PC owners to search for radio signals from an extraterrestrial intelligence. By connecting UDC to the grid, HP hopes to accelerate the adoption of distributed computing technologies by providing both technical and commercial computing environments with more security and flexibility. Data centers around the world could be networked so that IT resources are allocated where they are needed most.

"The grid must be trusted to be used, and one of HP's priorities is to build trust and security into the computing infrastructure from the hardware up," said Rick Hayes-Roth, chief technology officer at HP's software division. "Though many companies can host grid environments, HP can now provide data security through the HP UDC across the physical infrastructure, as well as across grids."

In June 2001, HP first disclosed plans to focus on "service-centric computing," which the company defined as "on-demand provisioning of consolidated information and communication services directly to users." HP counts itself among many IT companies that see information systems evolving toward a utility model, similar ultimately to electrical generation systems and global telecommunication systems. Eventually, they believe, internal IT departments and third-party service providers will manage IT assets and bill users for the information resources used.

First unveiled last November, UDC is HP's first attempt to address this corporate strategy and to provide the functionality to support suppliers of such information services. The UDC software segments the pool of computing power into varying levels of security and allows for dynamic allocation of resources without compromising security.

"Security has been a primary concern when companies consider the grid environment as a viable option for getting computing power as a service," said Vernon Turner, commercial systems and servers analyst at IDC. "By hosting the grid environment through its Utility Data Center, HP is providing customers with the best of both worlds: computing power on demand and the highest levels of data security."

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About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at


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