Friday, May 18, 2007

Grids Mean Business @ OGF 20, Manchester

Well, what a week it was. The OGF 20 meeting in Manchester last week created a new indoor/outdoor world record for attendance of more than 900 people, beating the previous record held by Edinburgh for OGF 5 early in the century. There were some real highlights for me in the Grids Mean Business Track, details of the programme can be found here
The conference opened on Tuesday with an excellent presentation from Tony Hey, Corporate VP of Technical Computing, Microsoft on the potential for web services to simplify demands on the underlying infrastructure and a call to action to take the user perspective of the requirements, top down, rather than invent the all encompassing infrastructure bottom up. In reality, the business agenda is being driven this way with people answering the challenges they face day to day using the available tools and technologies without much interest in standards activity. The only area where standards are particularly of interest right not is in the area of API's for middleware, where the current vendors have a lockout situation which is not in the long term interests of their customers.
The Grids Mean Business track (GMB) opened with Paul Strong of e-Bay and his usual tour de force, describing what it takes to deliver a business infrastructure serving 233 million users; 6 million product additions a day each of which is touched on average 6 times during their lifespan. He also described in some detail the processes that e-Bay use to roll their infrastructure on a two weekly basis, and I was particularly struck by their data management strategies which, apart from managing the huge scale of data employed, enable their indexes to be updated within a few seconds on a global basis. Paul did us an huge favour ahead of the event by being interviewed quite widely by the industry press so you will find plenty of sources of his business through a Google search.
The GMB sessions developed the themes of Paths for Adoption; Grid Markets and Service Delivery; Scaling Up; Collaboration and a couple of workshops on Security and Software Licensing. These sessions were all very well attended and featured many of the people who have contributed to the initial success of the Grid Computing Now Knowledge Transfer Networks.
But there were some very special contributions in the sessions on Grid Markets and on Scaling up. Chris Swann, Credit Suisse, talked compellingly about the potential for a market utility for computing capacity, his model provides for a trading Buy/Offer model, based on clearer understanding of resource requirements and scheduling set against the demand on capacity. Andrew Dolan of CitiGroup talked about the evolution of the Citi grid network and the practical challenges of implementing or evolving grid infrastructures. What's common here is the increasing scale and acceptance at all levels in these businesses of the contribution and importance of grid to future business. Take a look through the presentations, I am sure you'll find much of interest. As always, there is more about many of these cases on the GCN website.


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Green IT

I've been digging more and more into the issue of sustainability and the responsibility of the Data Centre for energy consumption. In the UK this is estimated at around 1.5% of gross domestic consumption, which seems a lot to me. However, when you consider the average utilisation of servers running around 15-20% (which is probably optimistic) its actually laden with a fair amount of wastage. Assuming that consumption is linear in nature - which it is probably not. When you consider that powering a box takes about twice as much power as cooling it the statistic gets worse. If you then consider that older boxes may be idle and yet running at 85% consumption, it gets worse still. At least newer processors use only around 25% in idle state and can now be switched off altogether and remotely powered up and operational in less than 15 minutes. This is a story which will run and run, because I know that the IT Directors and Data Centre managers out there are quite passionate about power. Its now consuming up to 40% of their budget and, we can see from the above, to little good effect. Its something we need to get to grips with. How?
Well, using virtualisation allows server power to be maximised in a fewer, more efficient boxes for end users; server virtualisation allows older, more expensive, boxes to be replaced by newer more efficient servers - and the Xen hypervisory looks good at the price for only single digit overhead against double digit performance improvement.
There's some smart ideas around from HP on power management in the data centre, combined with grid middleware and system management workloads can be distributed across the network and usage levels optimised to your choice. And while we're there, are you sure you need to own your own infrastructure? There's always the opportunity to leverage someone else's investment in carbon neutral infrastructure for hosting some of your applications or to provide extra capacity for business continuity.
Multi-core processors seems to prosper best in virtualised environments, at least that's one way of running application tasks in parallel, simply replicate them. Works well if transactions are self contained. A little more challenging if not. But there are ways of clustering which will work for more traditional data base configurations, see Oracle 10G. Course, it would be good if we could dust off those old parallel programming skills and redesign applications for these environments. See the BCS Parallel Processing Specialist Group for some folk who understand this question!!
Finally, its such a shame that we have so much AC:DC conversion lying around, Google, amongst others, have suggested a minimum standard of 80% efficiency for all such exercises. Does this cost you much? Well a recent experiment successfully ran a data centre on DC power only, just one conversion, at a saving of 20% of energy consumed! Run the maths, there's plenty of opportunity here to start reducing that power bill.