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What's hindering the wider deployment and larger uptake of Grid type architectures ?

Adina Riposan, Director


The most significant obstacles are non-technical organizational barriers, rooted in people and processes…

One of the biggest challenges of the technological advancement today is to expand the potential of the computing and knowledge Grid and peer-to-peer approaches to solving complex problems which can not be solved with current technologies and at the local level. This is thought to overcome present architectural and design limitations, hampering the use and wider deployment of computing and knowledge Grids. There is also the tendency to extend the concept from computation Grids to knowledge Grids, eventually leading to a "semantic Grid".

The true potential of knowledge, access and computation Grid should be seen as a way to enable virtualization of computer resources to solve real business issues. Collaborative working in dynamic virtual organizations could be enhanced by helping the larger uptake of Grid type architectures. The aim is to enrich its capabilities by including new functionalities required for complex problem solving, including security built-in at all levels, programming environments, resource management, economic and business models for new services, customizable middleware, interoperability with existing GRID and Webservices.

For all that, the most significant obstacles are rooted in people and processes. Control, power, influence, and ownership are all intangibles that come into play when people's jobs and reputations are on the line. Overcoming these obstacles requires far more than installing new software or hardware. People need to be convinced to use Grid computing technology as a catalyst for business process and organizational change.

Technological concerns, such as standards, security, and data sharing, are being addressed and aggressively resolved by the broader grid community. But major internal obstacles to grids are far more difficult to eliminate - these ranging from loss of control over data and resources, managing risk and organizational change, to budgetary issues. There is also a somewhat intimidating perception that grid computing has to start at a global or enterprise level, which is not always the case

With Grid computing, corporate enterprises can collaborate, share data and software, store increasingly large volumes of information, and reliably and securely access vast amounts of processing power - on demand. Grid computing also offers the potential to effectively align the IT infrastructure with underlying business objectives for greater impact on corporate performance. But non-technical organizational barriers continue to pose obstacles to Grid and shared computing.

Without realizing it, many organizations have erected their own internal barriers. With multiple lines of business, different priorities and objectives, autonomous regional operations, headstrong departmental owners, tight budget controls, and stringent policies and processes governing each part of the business, it is easy to see how organizations can become divided on business issues and priorities. These invisible organizational barriers are formidable obstacles to effectively sharing and leveraging corporate IT investments. "Server-hugging" has become an often-heard phrase, as users are confronted by the requirement to share resources with others.

Key findings in the fifth annual "Technology Issues for Financial Executives" survey, conducted by the Financial Executives Institute (www.fei.org) in conjunction with Computer Sciences Corp., indicate that aligning business with IT is becoming a key responsibility of senior executives. Of more than 500 senior business executives surveyed, 79% demonstrated their awareness of the strategic impact of IT when they indicated that integration issues are a somewhat or extremely significant concern for their company. The report points out that "integration is still a problem for companies that have the most to integrate. After all, entity size implies more operating locations…also, most larger entities are the product of multiple mergers and acquisitions."

Another recent survey was commissioned by Platform Computing to identify "The Non-Technical Barriers to Implementing Shared Computing in a Commercial Environment". Phase 1 of the Platform survey examined the intermediate IT staff that implement and manage IT solutions for their companies.

In total, 50 companies were surveyed for this report. Participants were selected based on their familiarity with Grid computing and an ability to identify some obstacles that they face with deployment of Grid computing technology. The participants panel was split, by industry, among several sectors - manufacturing 49%, life sciences 33%, financial services 7%, research 7% and reseller 4%.

The survey revealed that 89% of respondents feel that internal politics, such as 'serverhugging', create significant barriers to widespread Grid adoption. The study was the first to investigate the non-technical obstacles to Grid computing.

Many of the respondents commented that the technical challenges are more easily dealt with, whereas the cultural, process, and people-related issues are far more difficult to overcome. The most important such non-technical issues proved to be: Risks associated with enterprise-wide deployment; Loss of control or access to resources; Lack of confidence in a shared infrastructure, and Loss or reduction of budget dollars.

LOSS OF CONTROL OR ACCESS TO RESOURCES

This not only scored highest in the rankings, but was also mentioned many times in the open-ended responses. Persuading employees to share their resources in exchange for access to a larger pool is a difficult task. Many people also believe that the nature of their work requires access to particular and unique resources, especially when it comes to IT.

Grid architectures should allow shared control and shared usage of all resources, providing advanced policy and rule-setting capabilities that allow users, departments, projects, and other defined groups to reserve resources when they need them and prioritize access based on business priority.

"The key to making Grid work is to set up so people in different administrations can share their resources without having to feel that they lose control. A real Grid spans different administrative controls as opposed to a cluster which is completely under one administration." (IT Project Manager, major life sciences company)

RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH ENTERPRISE-WIDE DEPLOYMENT

The thought of having an Enterprise Grid is daunting to many of the survey respondents. The politics of servicing an entire organization with one centralized IT infrastructure churn up defensive, territorial sentiments and concerns. And mainly when different geographies and cultures come together to agree on global priorities, configurations, standards, and policies.

"The bigger problems are social questions as a result of working between different cultures and continents. When you try to build a Grid and you have to do it within a company, you have to set policies and guidelines and everyone has to agree to give up their own resources into a shared pool. A global environment causes global problems." (IT Project Leader, global auto manufacturer)

LOSS OR REDUCTION OF BUDGET DOLLARS

In many companies there is a sentiment of justifying and defending budget. If you don't spend what you have, you run the risk of having the surplus cut from subsequent budgets.

"Problems arise because we have a lot of organizations with separate budgets. Since they have to share resources with Grid, they are skeptical. We have to prove to them that they are getting their share of resources." (Engineering Infrastructure Analyst, major EDA company)

What's interesting about Grid adoption is that using Grid computing to share resources becomes part of the way the company operates, and people take it for granted. This 'fading into the background' is proof that Grid computing technology acts as a catalyst to changing business processes and organizational structure. As the company adjusts to change, the underlying technology becomes essentially invisible.



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