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Fiorina: Grid is good, but challenges await

Computer grids are a great idea, as long as they don't evolve into proprietary islands of technology. The real potential of this computing model won't be realized for years, but it is currently in danger of being overhyped and misunderstood.

That was the gist of Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina's message to a keynote audience at last week's OracleWorld conference in San Francisco. "Grid computing has been more hype than reality," she said. "[But] we do believe grid computing is real; it's driving research in this industry ... HP's goal for the grid is to do for IT resources what the Web did for documents: provide ubiquitous and easy access. We are now, of course, many years away from that vision."

Oracle Corp. brought out the grid-enabled 10g versions of the Oracle Application Server and Oracle Database during the conference, pitching the idea that grids of low-cost Intel systems will provide enterprise users with all the computing power they need.

HP is not new to the grid-computing model, which links disparate machines across corporate, institutional and geographic boundaries, giving users access to their combined computing power, databases and other tools. Palo Alto, Calif.-based HP began developing what it calls "grid-like infrastructures" more than five years ago.

HP had declared its commitment to grid computing a week earlier with its launch of a new grid-centric consulting unit and its intention to integrate emerging grid-computing standards into its enterprise products, as eADT previously reported. HP's Fiorina reiterated that commitment, saying that HP considers grid computing to be a critical piece of its evolving utility-computing strategy, which the company calls the Adaptive Enterprise.

Interestingly, Fiorina differentiated between grid computing and distributed computing during her speech. The distributed model is a 20-year-old concept, she said, but grid computing is a model for allowing modern enterprise applications (payroll and order processing, for example) to share processing power. It's a model that could free business from the need to maintain costly "islands of computation," in which individual applications require their own dedicated machines equipped for peak data-crunching loads at all times.

"We are focused squarely on the management and execution of grid services," Fiorina said. "This is where we intend to make a major contribution."

But the move to grid computing won't happen overnight, she said. It will take enterprises between three and five years to implement grids as they evolve their data centers and face some significant challenges. Fiorina listed five basic challenges advocates of the grid model now face: overcoming the complexity of the technology, which was originally intended for high-end scientific computing; establishing trust and security in the data center; getting heterogeneous systems to interoperate; developing and implementing open standards; and building robust systems.

Without referring to him by name, Fiorina took jabs at HP competitor Dell Inc.'s CEO, Michael Dell, who had addressed the conference on Monday in an ankle cast; Dell was injured, he said, when a horse fell on his leg. "Some are trying to ride this horse before they're ready," Fiorina said, "and as you heard earlier this week, that's a good way to hurt your foot."

Fiorina gave her speech a day after a bomb scare interrupted the conference and led to the evacuation of the Moscone Center. An estimated 11,000 OracleWorld conference goers from the north and south wings joined some 3,000 Seybold Conference attendees from the newly completed west wing on the city streets outside the facilities. The evacuations proceeded without incident, according to the San Francisco police department, but the crowd stopped traffic on a one-block section of 4th Street.

Oracle Executive Vice President Charles Phillips opened Thursday's sessions by assuring attendees that extra security had been put in place. An extra security sweep of the show had been conducted that morning, he said. "It's unfortunate that these things happen," he told attendees. "We opted on the side of caution."

About the Author

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

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