TECHNOLOGY: Industry Standard
Standardizing Grid Computing
By Rich Schwerin
The Enterprise Grid Alliance defines emerging standards for grid computing.
The acceleration and adoption of new technologies can progress only so far without commonly accepted standards. The Enterprise Grid Alliance (EGA) is a consortium of more than 30 leading vendors and customers working together to accelerate deployment of grids in enterprise data centers by fostering the understanding and adoption of existing tools, and to develop standards that are aligned with the unique needs of enterprise customers.
"The EGA has launched an aggressive technical effort to advance standards and architectures for grid computing along five major areas," explains Tony Di Cenzo, Oracle's director of standards strategy and architecture, and alternate representative to EGA's board of directors. "By focusing on grid-style computing in and between enterprise data centers, and on enterprise components—storage, servers, databases, application servers, and management frameworks—the EGA is focusing on the infrastructure and applications that enterprises use to run their businesses. By focusing on these interconnected pools of resources, enterprises can dynamically allocate resources when required to meet critical demand or changing business needs."
More Than 30 Industry Leaders
Unlike the Globus Alliance and the Global Grid Forum, which grew out of the needs of the technical and scientific communities and today focus on the needs of all communities of grid users, the EGA is the only independent body focused solely on enterprise grid computing. The EGA is an open, nonprofit, independent, and vendor-neutral organization.
"Enterprise grid deployments have requirements that differ from those of noncommercial or more academic implementations," says Di Cenzo. "Some of these requirements—such as service-level agreements about access and security, the ability to audit an action, and rights management—generally don't have the same relevance outside of commercial enterprises. Consolidation and centralized control may not be desirable or even possible outside of an enterprise setting, and the types of workloads and how they should be distributed also differ between commercial and noncommercial applications."
By focusing exclusively on the needs of enterprise users, the EGA aims to accelerate the deployment of open solutions for enterprise grid computing and enable businesses to benefit immediately. Among the EGA members are prominent industry leaders including AMD, Cisco Systems, Dell, EMC, Fujitsu Siemens, HP, Intel, NEC, Network Appliance, Novell, Oracle, and Sun Microsystems. Since its inception in April 2004, the EGA has been hard at work facilitating and expediting a range of coordinated and community-driven deliverables aimed at accelerating the adoption of grid computing within enterprises. And to encourage the development and adoption of relevant technical standards, the EGA has formed five initial technical working groups.
The five working groups are the Reference Model Working Group, which promotes a common understanding of enterprise grid computing, documents use cases, and publishes a glossary and a taxonomy; the Component Provisioning Working Group, which makes the provisioning of resources to applications open and standard and specifies standard ways to provision enterprise data center components to enterprise applications; the Data Provisioning Working Group, which solves problems of provisioning large enterprise data files and databases and profiles existing standards to determine how and when they can be used in the enterprise; the Utility Accounting Working Group, which profiles existing standards for other utilities such as telecommunications and determines if these standards can be used to track usage in enterprise grids; and the Grid Security Working Group, which examines new security issues that might arise from the use of grid computing in the enterprise and attempts to solve problems found in existing security technology.
The Reference Model Working Group has recently published the industry's first reference model for enterprise grids.
EGA Reference Model v1.0
The first technical deliverable from the EGA, the reference model is based on contributions from more than 20 participants, representing 14 EGA member organizations. The model provides a specific context for describing requirements and standards, comparing technologies, and implementing grid solutions. The model delivers a framework and a set of customer-based requirements for accelerating enterprise grid adoption. It includes three elements—a common lexicon of grid terms, a model that classifies the management and lifecycles of the components required for enterprise grids, and a set of use cases that demonstrate the requirements for enterprise grid computing.
"The reference model provides clear definitions of grid components, and it classifies the various component types that are typically found within an enterprise grid. The model also details the different relationships between components, and how those relationships function," explains Bob Thome, Oracle's senior manager in distributed database product management and a member of the EGA's Reference Model Working Group. "Additionally, the model also outlines component lifecycles, which dictate how components are managed. In short, the model is a documented reference point that ensures vendors are all speaking the same language."
An enterprise grid is a collection of interconnected (networked) grid components under the control of a grid management entity. Thome explains that in addition to grid components and their lifecycles, the model also introduces the concept of the Grid Management Entity (GME). "The GME is a logical entity that manages grid components, their relationships with other grid components, and their lifecycles," says Thome. "It's responsible for ensuring that grid components do what they're supposed to do. For example, a GME would be responsible for making sure that high-level service and application components—such as ERP, BI, and CRM—deployed on the enterprise grid meet their service-level agreements."
In addition to the common lexicon of grid terms and the classification of grid components, including their management and lifecycles, the reference model also includes a basic set of use cases that provide the potential starting points and the context for the work undertaken by the various EGA working groups. The use cases are broken down into generic use cases, where the focus is on managing the lifecycle of a nonspecific grid component.
"The generic use cases map to the model's concepts and use the language contained in the model. You can think of the use cases as functional building blocks," says Thome. "For example, there's a use case that says, 'This is how you provision a server,' and another that says, 'This is how you provision a database on a server.' There are use cases that describe how you would activate grid components, and, for example, one of those grid components might be a database. Also, there are other use cases that call out how you would activate the grid components on which the database is dependent."
The current published model, v1.0, contains half a dozen use cases, and Thome explains that the group is working on dozens more, which will be published in the next version of the model, in 2006. Eventually, vendors will be able to build solutions that provide grid components that have the characteristics and follow the common use cases described in the model, explains Thome. "The EGA's model gives the industry a common vocabulary, so vendors can speak the same language. When HP, Sun, Dell, and other vendors say they're working on an enterprise grid, everyone knows they're talking about the same thing. The model allows everyone to better articulate how various components might ultimately work in a multivendor grid environment."
Grid Standards Moving Forward
The EGA's reference model is just the beginning. "The EGA is, through its participants, addressing the near-term requirements for deploying commercial applications in a grid environment," says Di Cenzo. "The high level of interest in the reference model is fueling excitement among the EGA participants. Work on provisioning and accounting is expected to advance rapidly now that the foundation work has been completed."
Provisioning, providing, or allocating a requested resource applies to components and data alike. Accounting, or metering, addresses the need for visibility into and management of how components and data are provisioned. For example, how many CPU cycles did the finance department consume during the close of the quarter? Enterprises need standards that address not only how a resource is provisioned but also how that provision is accounted for. These are two topics the EGA will address through open, interoperable solutions and best practices.
"By focusing exclusively on the needs of enterprise users, the EGA enables businesses to realize the many benefits of grid computing, such as faster response to changing business needs, better utilization and service-level performance, lower IT operating costs, and a focus on pragmatic programs to demonstrate the utility of grid computing throughout the IT industry," says Di Cenzo. "The EGA is decidedly neutral regarding which technology can be used to create grids. Where specifications useful in enterprise grids are available, the EGA will endorse them. Where none are available, the EGA will help create them, either by working within the EGA consortium or by initiating efforts in other specification forums."
Rich Schwerin (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a product marketing manager with Oracle Technology Marketing.