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Web services and the data center of tomorrow

Where do Web services fit into the data center of tomorrow? Will they be at the core of things, or relegated to the sidelines?

The Web Services Advisor
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Tomorrow's data center
The data center of the future will be very different than the one you use today. Most experts expect it to be grid-like, "self-healing," and able to more quickly assign resources to business problems as they arise.

But where do Web services fit into the data center of tomorrow? Will they be at the core of things, or relegated to the sidelines? In large part, that will be decided by computing behemoths like IBM, Microsoft and Sun. In this first part of a two-part column on the topic, we'll look at how Web services fit into IBM's vision of the data center.

It all starts with On-Demand computing
Spend more than ten seconds talking to anyone at IBM about the future of computing, and the words "on demand" will quickly pop up. IBM's vision of the future, for the data center and elsewhere, falls under the rubric of these buzzwords, and while to some extent they're marketing hype, they also represent a major shift in the way that IBM views the world. In on-demand computing, computing resources are treated as if they were a utility — turn on a virtual tap, get computing resources, and pay only for what you use. Additionally, on-demand computing includes autonomic computing, in which computers and networks are "self-healing" and can manage themselves without human intervention.

This will represent a major shift in the way that data centers are run. In the future, at one end of the spectrum, a corporation could in essence outsource its entire data center to IBM in a utility computing model, says Jonathan Eunice, principal analyst and IT adviser at Illuminata. Corporations would pay only for the computing resources they use, and would not have to run their own data centers. At the other end of the spectrum, he says, IBM could sell products and services that would allow a corporation build its own on-demand data center for internal use. Most companies would fall somewhere between the two, mixing the two models, Eunice believes.

Key to being able to do this, Eunice says, is grid computing, which "links servers, clients and storage from across the Internet to form virtual resource pools which may be dynamically allocated," in the words of Jeffrey M. Nick, Fellow and Director of Advanced Systems Architecture at IBM at a keynote presentation given at Marist College on the "Data Center of the Future."

Also key adds Eunice, is data center virtualization, in which IT resources can be allocated on the fly as needed to meet changing business demands.

At the core is Web services
IBM "plans on building the data center of the future through grid protocols and grid mechanisms," notes Eunice. "When IBM looks at grids, they're extending it out to data grids, not just computing grids."

And when IBM thinks grids, it's thinking Web service standards. "Web services become the underpinning for the grid," says Kerrie Holley, an IBM Distinguished Engineer. "It's what allows you to implement a grid services architecture." In fact, Web service standards and protocols are at the heart of the the future of grid computing. The recently released Globus Toolkit ® 3.0 (GT3), the latest and most comprehensive grid specification, builds on top of the basic Web services standards and protocols, including WSDL, XML and SOAP. IBM supports the Globus Toolkit as the underpinning of its grid computing architecture. (For more information, go to the Globus Alliance at www.globus.org.)

All this sounds neat and tidy, but the truth is, at this point, it's all still much more talk than reality. Even IBM admits that grid computing won't be coming next week to a data center near you. IBM's Holley believes that we may be five to ten years away from taking full advantage of powerful grids and an architecture in which you can turn on a virtual tap and get computing resources.

While fully functional grids serving data centers may be many years away, incremental changes toward the on-demand data center, in IBM's vision, will be coming much sooner than that, helped along by Web services standards. Eunice notes that in order for that to happen, however, Web services must be used in a much more widespread way than they currently are. They are primarily used now for application integration, but in the future he expects that IBM will be using them for workload management and control, and to underpin and control data center virtualization. Eunice expects that they'll be used for workload management and control increasingly in 2004.

IBM compared to other 'Big Iron' vendors
So how does IBM stack up against the other two "big iron" vendors, Hewlett-Packard and Sun, when it comes to using Web service standards in the data center of the future? Eunice rates IBM much higher.

"IBM is much more aggressive in saying that Web services must be the way that the data center connects," he says. "You don't hear this from HP or Sun. They're much further behind in terms of using open protocols as a way to control data centers."

But what do other major players say about the role that Web services will play in the data center of the future? We'll look at that in my next column.

Continues in Part Two

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About the Author

Preston Gralla, a well-known technology expert, is the author of more than 20 books, including "How the Internet Works," which has been translated into 14 languages and sold several hundred thousand copies worldwide. He is an expert on Web services and the author of a major research and white paper for the Software and Information Industry Association on the topic. Gralla was the founding managing editor of PC Week, a founding editor and then editor and editorial director of PC/Computing, and an executive editor for ZDNet and CNet. He has written about technology for more than 15 years for many major magazines and newspapers, including PC Magazine, Computerworld, CIO Magazine, eWeek and its forerunner PC Week, PC/Computing, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the Dallas Morning News among others. As a well-known technology guru, he appears frequently on TV and radio shows and networks, including CNN, MSNBC, ABC World News Now, the CBS Early Show, PBS's All Things Considered and others. He has won a number of awards for his writing, including from the Computer Press Association for the Best Feature in a Computer Publication. He can be reached at preston@gralla.com.

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