editor Derrick Harris spoke with Ed Hubbard, founder
and chief marketing officer of United Devices, about the company's
strategy around SC'05. its recent acquisition of France-based GridXpert
(a leader in the manufacturing sector), the issues of Grid standards
and Grid adoption, and the differences between Grids and clusters -- a
topic that arises quite often in the HPC space.
How's everything going with United Devices? Will you be announcing any news at SC'05?
Business continues to grow with several of our large
customers moving their Grids to a central services model and offering
At SC'05, we'll have a number of announcements, three as a matter of
fact. We'll have an announcement with HP, Microsoft and an ISV partner.
What about the news of the past several months? Can you
comment on the GridXpert acquisition? How has it affected the company
in terms of customers in new markets and geographies?
Acquiring GridXpert and its best-of-breed
meta-scheduling technology has accelerated a number of our deployments
by leveling the complexities of multiple, incompatible schedulers/DRMs.
Not surprisingly, we've also opened up a number of conversations within
our expanded customer base around the products and services offered by
UD. Finally, part of our reasoning for this acquisition was to
significantly enhance our position in manufacturing and I believe this
has been more successful than we projected. The former GridXpert team
(now UD, of course) had a fairly large number of evaluations going on
that we've been able to add a lot of value to from a services and
technology perspective. I anticipate a very good conversion rate on
Moving on to the Grid industry as a whole, I'm wondering
where you see the market heading in terms of widespread adoption? Would
it benefit the cause if the community could agree on some quality
We continue to architect around open Web services
standards, which have served us well with customers. In fact, this is
one of the areas where we continue to receive a lot of positive
feedback -- namely the ability of our customers to easily create
application services and portals around our infrastructure in
environments like Java and C#.
On the topic of standards, I don't think they've held the industry back
as they've largely been irrelevant to date (at least in our
deployments). Our view is that this is changing but not in the way you
might expect. We actually see more divergence, which was another
problem we wanted to address with the GridXpert acquisition. By
embracing the reality of the market (multiple, incompatible schedulers
/ DRMs) and providing a solution to eliminate that unnecessary
complexity for our customers, we believe we have a superior product set
to solve what our customers really face in their everyday production
I don't think this is going to change very quickly since there is a
huge gap between public/press perception and commercial reality that
needs to be closed with some open conversation:
- There is a perception out there that WSRF/OGSA & Globus are standards.
- The reality is that Globus is merely a Grid software toolkit. In
other words, it is an implementation geared toward academic
environments where it has been somewhat successful -- it is not a
standard by any means. OGSA is really WSRF and is currently under
review at OASIS and it does not address current enteprise issues around
interopability. Most of the requirements addressed in the current
document reflect academic needs of running multiple Grid services
across different organizations.
We've tried hard to stay out of this debate and just be
customer-driven, but this is the core problem of standards for the Grid
market that no one seems willing to admit or discuss openly.
How is it that United Devices is so successful in the Grid
space given the somewhat disappointing enterprise adoption rates? Does
it have something to do with simply targeting the right customers in
the right industries?
We have 100-plus customers today ranging in size from
20 nodes to 3 million, but this hasn't been an overnight success. We
have worked hard and slugged it out with more than a dozen other
players that have come and, thankfully, gone. This has left a pretty
stable set of solutions that have settled into that age-old competitive
triad (UD, DataSynapse and Platform) where there are three quality
solutions in the market that all own their respective verticals and
compete in the verticals where no player has a clearly dominant
I would argue that Grids have already penetrated the majority of the
Fortune 500 in some form even if they haven't been adopted as an
enterprise-wide service yet. For UD, we chose to focus early-on on life
sciences and have been very successful in that vertical market. We've
built up a ton of credibility, a high-quality set of references and
large, complex deployments that I'd put up against any competitor's
reference set. With GridXpert, I hope we've successfully telegraphed
that we plan to repeat this same success in the manufacturing and other
environments and, in fact, are already well on our way.
On to Supercomputing ... what is it about this show that
draws so many attendees and exhibitors? For how long has United Devices
been exhibiting at the show?
I think the show draws well because of the natural
progress of technology, e.g. what used to be a highly specialized
supercomputing application 10 years ago is now running on a Grid and
the results can be visualized and manipulated on a single workstation.
The democratization of these engineering analyses has continued
unabated and the show where you can go to discuss them across the board
remains the SC'XY shows.
UD has either exhibited or attended the show (based on our strategy for the given year) since 2000.
Seeing as how United Devices operates in both the Grid and
cluster markets, which do you tend to focus on at SC events, which seem
to focus a more on the cluster/HPC market?
We typically focus on clusters at the SC'XY shows for
both practical/logistics reasons and because we just think its a better
fit from an application perspective. If you look across the set of
applications in use and demo'd at the SC'XY shows, you'll find a large
number of MPI-based applications that really require the speed and low
interconnect latency of a cluster to run effectively. A Grid is simply
a set of resources -- these resources could include clusters. We don't
see a Grid market as different from a cluster market. We can
effectively manage clusters stand-alone or as part of larger Grid
deployments through our Grid MP platform (MPI jobs included).
Finally, and I'm starting to ask this question a lot because
I feel that there is still some confusion out there, can you define, at
least from a United Devices perspective, the differences/similarities
between clusters and Grids?
Grids are the superset in our vernacular. A Grid can be
made up of any available device that may be useful to the application
type(s) the enterprise is trying to accelerate, raise the reliability
on, etc. That said, we love starting somewhere on a cluster because we
can clearly articulate how this single, little cluster could grow up to
be the enterprise's Grid -- we call this a "Grid-ready cluster." Many
of our current implementations started out as a cluster and built a
Grid of clusters and other resources.
Clusters are, in general, simpler animals. They are typically self
contained, built from homogeneous hardware, have dedicated,
private-switched networks and storage, are managed carefully by
dedicated staff and are often a better path from a price/performance
perspective for a number of applications.
Grids, on the other hand, often include a cluster, or multiple
clusters. Sometimes running the same underlying scheduler/DRM, but
sometimes not. They can also contain servers that are part of "'hot"
recovery sites, underutilized machines from, for example, a company's
Web farm that do very little at night but which can add significant
power to a Grid with high overnight processing demands. Workstations
and PCs are also often a part of enterprise Grids and this adds
complexity around security requirements, data management and caching,
etc., that we've tuned for in our Grid MP platform. Finally, Grids
become a much larger, integrated part of the business's core value
creation and as such absolutely require a higher level of manageability
than a single cluster. This area is one where we have been increasingly
focused over the last couple years driven by our customers.
The Grid is fundamentally about removing the current hard, static
binding between an application and its execution environment. In the
new world, this binding will be soft and very dynamic. The benefits of
doing this are very significant for our customers.
Is there anything else you'd like to add about United Devices, SC'05 or the Grid market in general?
From both introspection and looking at our competitors, we
fully believe that Grids are moving into mainstream adoption. All
indications from our current customers and prospects point in this