GridFrastructure develops grid authentication and management

GridFrastructure. It's not exactly rocket science to figure out the opportunity this startup is heading for. But it claims to be developing a suite of management, authentication, security, resource utilization and monitoring, accounting, charge-back and billing tools and resources that will work with a range of underlying grid middleware.

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GridFrastructure develops grid authentication and management
GridFrastructure. It's not exactly rocket science to figure out the opportunity this startup is heading for. But it claims to be developing a suite of management, authentication, security, resource utilization and monitoring, accounting, charge-back and billing tools and resources that will work with a range of underlying grid middleware. Moreover, it doesn't believe any other company is doing the same.

Impact assessment

  • The message GridFrastructure has identified a need for grid management tools that are aligned with the concept of a grid software stack. It plans to offer GUI-based tools, integrated with a range of middleware, for functions such as authentication, accounting and charge-back, which are not the key focus of most current grid activities.
  • Competitive landscape In addition to competition from grid middleware suppliers such as Sun, IBM, Platform, Racemi, Entropia, United Devices and Avaki, GridFrastructure will face other startups, such as GridXpert, plus established system management vendors that will tap into grids as soon as the market becomes commercially viable. GridFrastructure counts Entropia and United Devices as it nearest direct competitors.
  • The451 assessment The grid computing market looks destined to happen, and tools to manage all aspects of grid environments in distributed networks will be needed. But GridFrastructure cannot continue without some backing for its plan. It's not looking for much, and grids have clearly captured the attention of the VC community. Its technology is still in testing, but GridFrastructure understands what's needed to make grids commercially viable, and the high-value market it's targeting will surely prove attractive to potential investors.

Strategy GridFrastructure started life by packaging a set of 40 public-license grid applications, including Globus and Condor, on a CD called GF-Tools. The company plans to use the tools as the basis for GF-Grid, a Web-based collection of resources (listed above) that integrate with grid middleware, such as that contained on GF-Tools.

Believing there would be a market for outsourced grid services and utilities such as those on GF-Tools, GridFrastructure also created a managed service program. The managed service model, however, has generally fallen on hard times, and that venture is effectively mothballed.

Technology President Dan Feldman – who as a director of software engineering at Expressway Technologies planned the development of parallel execution for the company's data analysis product, which later became Sybase IQ – says the company has chosen to look at grids like any other software stack and develop products in relation to this.

At the lowest level are the modern network operating systems that grids run on. On top of them are tools such as Beowulf clustering, MPI and other parallelization tools, and then come Globus, Platform LSF, Sun Grid Engine and many P2P environments. The tools it is developing are being designed to automate these applications and provide management.

GridFrastructure is starting with authentication and security. Even Globus, which supports a 'who am I/you?' mechanism, doesn't have a very robust or efficient approach to authentication. To deploy in commercial environments certain kinds of information – who can do what, which resources have been accessed, by which users, at what times – is going to be crucial for charge-back, accounting and overall provenance.

Users of Sun's Grid Engine and other similar tools will have to modify the environment themselves to offers this class of characteristics, tasks GridFrastructure is aiming to encapsulate and automate.

Feldman says GridFrastructure's GF-Security (it is an accredited certificate authority) will do just this. The software is claimed to offer more control and granularity than anything else out there and is currently out in beta testing.

Marketing GF-Security will ship next year. Feldman is targeting a price of $200,000 per managed site and $40,000 per year for services. He claims to have six potential customers evaluating the software and much interest from telecom companies.

Business model The six-person shop has been self-funded and is now looking for $3m in funding, which will enable it to develop its product and bring it to market. At that time it will look for another round of funding.

Feldman believes the action in grid computing going forward will focus on high-value resources, not low-value activity such as harnessing PC cycles. Grids will demonstrate economic value when they are applied to valuable resources. On grid definitions and standards, Feldman is on the side of those who believe that a cluster is not in itself a grid. Moreover, if other vendors are concerned about the level of IBM's participation in standards activity then they "should step up themselves," he says.

Nevertheless, IBM is now in a position in grid computing where it's perfectly capable of creating an apparently standard technology that is in fact proprietary – like Sun has done with Java. IBM doesn't, he says, have the proprietary hook (like Java), although he supposes it could construct one. But he thinks it unlikely. After all, IBM did just this when it created SQL – then it gave it away!

Competition In addition to competition from grid middleware suppliers such as Sun, IBM, Platform, Racemi, Entropia, United Devices and Avaki, GridFrastructure will face other startups, such as GridXpert, plus established system management vendors that will tap into grids as soon as the market becomes commercially viable. GridFrastructure counts Entropia and United Devices as it nearest direct competitors.

Grid computing is sometimes irreverently referred to as a 'great funding concept,' but clearly GridFrastructure cannot continue without some backing for its plan. It's not looking for much, and grids have clearly captured the attention of the VC community. It claims to have potential customers evaluating beta software. With heavyweights IBM, Sun and HPQ all heading under full steam toward it, the grid computing market looks destined to happen in some shape or form, and tools to manage all aspects of grid environments in distributed networks will be needed.

SWOT analysis

Strengths Weaknesses
GridFrastructure appears to understand grid middleware and what's needed to make it useful and manageable. The company is pre-product, pre-customer, pre-revenue and pre-funding in a market that has yet to become commercially viable, and in a capital climate that is challenging.
Opportunities Threats
Given the backing of Sun, IBM and HP, grid computing looks set to happen, which suggests there will be plenty of opportunity to innovate and add value, especially where these companies are weakest. It may not raise the capital required to reach product availability. To develop momentum in the market and create a viable business, it must also win customers.


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