Enterprise Grid Alliance Premieres, Meets Resistance

Twenty industry members say alliance will encourage and accelerate the development of grid solutions for the data center through interoperability solutions

Last week, an assortment of computing giants announced a new grid advocacy organization, called the Enterprise Grid Alliance (EGA).

EGA’s founding members include prominent heavyweights Hewlett-Packard Co., Intel Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc., Fujitsu-Siemens, EMC Corp., and Oracle Corp. among others. But the list of vendors that have at this point declined to endorse the group also reads like a who’s who of industry players: IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp., Dell Computer Corp., and SAP AG, among others.

This fact was not lost on EGA president Donald Deutsch, who sought to defuse precisely this issue during a press conference last week.

“To address what I expect is a question on many of your minds: Yes, we’ve been talking with IBM. Yes, we’ve been talking with Microsoft. Yes, we’ve been talking with SAP. And we encourage all of them to come to the table,” asserted Deutsch, who moonlights as Oracle’s VP of standards strategy and architecture. “There are no barriers to entry. It is merely a matter of them deciding that this is something which is in their interests.”

Deutsch described EGA as an alliance “to encourage and accelerate the movement to an open grid environment through interoperability solutions.” At this point, the nascent organization claims 20 industry members, with EMC, HP, Intel, Sun, Fujitsu-Siemens, NEC, Network Appliance, Oracle, and Sun filling out its board of directors.

Although Cisco Systems Inc., Citrix Systems Inc., and other enterprise high-flyers have lent their support (either as contributors or associates), the alliance doesn’t currently include any of the pure-play grid vendors, companies such as Avaki Corp., Entropia Inc., Platform Computing Inc., and United Devices Inc.

That’s a cause of concern to Charles King, a research director at The Sageza Group Inc. “It’s not just IBM’s absence from the group, but companies like Platform Computing and Avaki as well,” he comments, arguing that even though “they are small vendors, they have been grid specialists for an awfully long time. If you go back and you take a look at IBM in particular, IBM will usually cite one or more of those companies as partners in its grid efforts, because those are the partners that are building the kind of the tangible platform stuff to deploy this.”

In fact, EGA may actually duplicate the efforts of an existing organization, the Global Grid Forum (GGF), which enjoys a cozy relationship with IBM and SAS Institute Inc., among others. Not surprisingly, Deutsch sought to position EGA benignly in relation to GGF, the Distributed Management Task Force, the Storage Networking Industry Alliance, and other standards organizations. He even said that EGA will defer to these groups when it comes to existing technology specifications.

“When we do want to develop specifications, we will be highly biased toward using the results of other forums,” he said. “If another forum has a specification that addresses a need that EGA identifies, we will use that specification. If specifications are available from other organizations that together address our needs, we will profile those specifications to use them. If another organization is better equipped to address a specific area of need, we will submit to them our requirements. Only in the absence of any of those situations will EGA actually develop its own specifications. However, we recognize that where needed, EGA will develop specifications.”

If that’s the case, asks King, why start a new group? “If they’re willing to use the standards, then what’s the point of having a separate organization? In a way, your decision to play nice with the other organizations stands as something you may do for tactical benefits while you’re pursuing a different strategy on your own.”

Deutsch himself addressed this issue during the teleconference when he was asked to contrast EGA with GGF, which was founded half a decade ago and which draws representation from among the vendor, scientific, and academic communities. “[W]e … think that GGF has a much broader charter than EGA, and what we are doing is focusing on a very specific subset of the GGF concept of grid. I guess we would characterize ourselves as wanting to accelerate and facilitate that work,” he explained.

Earlier, Deutsch had stressed that EGA is “concerned primarily with computing in the data center. We are not concerned with desktop grids. We are concerned with grids that are made up of proven and standard components.”

Elsewhere, the new EGA president was anxious to allay suspicions that EGA could serve as a forum for a single vendor—such as Oracle or HP—to push its own grid agenda.

He stressed that EGA is “an open, independent and vendor-neutral forum” and said that anyone who ponies up the cash—$50,000 for sponsors (vote for the board of directors and have the most control over the organization), $15,000 for contributors (participate, vote in and chair working groups), and $5,000 for associates (allowed to participate in working groups)—is welcome to join.

“There is no controlling entity. There are no members for life, there are no board members who can’t be voted off the board in our annual elections, there is no veto on the part of any part of the organization. This is a truly level playing field: one company, one vote per organization,” he asserted.

EGA plans to focus on prepping core commercial applications—“not technical applications,” Deutsch stressed—such as ERP and CRM for grid use. Benny Souder, VP of distributed database development with Oracle, explains that ERP and CRM applications present a unique challenge for enabling grids.

“[T]hey’re not strictly batch applications. They have an interactive component as well. The second thing is that they tend to be very data-centric. They tend to have terabytes of data, so that makes it more challenging to provision these applications,” he comments. “We don’t believe that any other organization has a real focus on these kinds of applications, and we think these applications are critical to enterprise computing.”

Finally, officials say that EGA will provide royalty-free access to the technologies, specifications, testing tools, or best practices that it develops. “The basic model for this organization is royalty-free licensing, and that’s an advantage that this organization has over some other bodies,” says Jim Hughes, director of software standards and applied technology with HP.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.