Monday, May 08, 2006

Grid: No Simple Answers? Or Simpler Than You Think?

  riving around Oakland this weekend I saw thousands of Mexican flags--the confluence of Cinco de Mayo the same week as the May Day immigrant protests led to a huge community celebration. I was at a gas station and chanced into a conversation with two Mexican immigrants--one legal, and one illegal. Because I have a passable knowledge of Spanish, they asked what I thought about the situation. My answer: it's a tough nut to crack. There simply are no easy answers.

When it comes to grid computing, people want easy answers, too. It's funny how many very educated people (like, PhD kind of people) want to know if we've found a way to take a single-threaded, monolithic piece of code and run it in parallel on many machines to make it go faster. The answer to that is, of course: no. We're not magicians, and anyone who can tell you they can do that has probably also spent time in a sphere full of water in New York.

So distributed computing isn't magic. That said, it also shouldn't be as hard as people have made it out to be.

There's been an acceptance in the industry that distributed computing is hard (and, to be certain, some aspects of it are very hard). But that has led most industry players to allow all of it to be hard. The prevailing attitude seems to be: "It's difficult stuff; you want to learn how to do it? Install the right flavor of the right version of the OS, learn Perl, spend weeks poring over the message boards, or hire some expensive consultants to do all of that for you."

But it doesn't have to be that hard. You don't need consultants to install most software--why should grid software be any different? Most systems don't prevail upon their users to learn scripting languages in order to take advantage of them--after all, most users aren't programmers. So why do all traditional grid systems rely on scripts?

This isn't to say that people who use those systems don't understand the concepts of ease-of-use. It's just not a feature they've been thinking about. I had a meeting last year with some PhD students who do work on the GLOBUS Toolkit. When they saw the Digipede Workbench (the tool that lets you design and run jobs without having to write scripts), they didn't snicker at a silly Windows tool. They said, "I wish we had one of those!"

That, incidentally, is the tool that the reviewers from CRN magazine used when they compared the Digipede Network to Sun Grid. Of course, their conclusion (as I wrote last Friday): "The difference in ease of use in Sun Grid vs. Digipede was enormous."

We used the same ideas when we designed our critically acclaimed development tools: distributed computing doesn't have to be hard.

So can grid computing make all of your software magically run faster? Of course not.

Does grid computing have to be very difficult to implement? I say, the answer is the same: Of course not.

There may not be simple answers to every question in life, but maybe there are some simple answers in grid after all...

Technorati tags: , , ,