Ottawa firm gropes for grid computing opportunity

An Ottawa startup is preparing to launch a software solution that could eliminate some of the bottlenecks and complexity that has created a backlash around grid computing.

GridIron Software Inc. will be offering its

first product, XLR8 (or “”accelerate””) in a few weeks through a business model based on the open source movement. The company will allow software developers to download a set of APIs and developer tools free of charge from its Web site, then license it if they choose to use it in their products. GridIron XLR8 is designed to let ISVs embed capabilities that will make their applications “”grid-ready.””

Grid computing allows a group of computers to effectively pool their computer cycles, enabling them to share data, applications and power across organizations and even continents. Most of the software that makes grid computing happen is middleware that sits between the application and the operating system, for example.

GridIron hopes that by embedding its technology, ISVs will be able to speed up the performance of applications, particularly for digital content creators who struggle with graphics rendering and animation.

Gord Watts, GridIron’s vice-president of marketing, said most grid software uses a master/slave approach where computing tasks are divided up by a “”master”” node, sort of like a human being that would sort laundry into dark and white loads in a pair of washing machines. This means that sometimes the master node can become the bottleneck as it tries to delegate the work — there’s too many dirty clothes to sort quickly. XLR8 uses peer-to-peer technology that will allow grids to form in a more autonomous nature, he said. When there is work to be divided, the nodes in the grid “”will essentially find each other,”” he said.

GridIron was formed in 2001 when its president was working with the CERN laboratory in Switzerland, Watts said. There, the intensive computing resources demanded of a large particle accelerator project exceeded existing hardware, and GridIron’s technology was originally developed to solve the problem. Two rounds of angel investing has helped the company bring its product to commercializtion.

“”We want to get grid computing out of the lab and the esoteric realm and into the mainstream,”” Watts said, admitting that complexity has created what research firm Gartner Inc. calls a “”trough of disillusionment”” around grid computing. “”The faster it falls down that trough, the better it is for us, because we’ll help simplify it.””

Given its choice of vertical market and the embedded nature of its product, Watts said GridIron would not be competing with other Canadian grid computing companies like Platform Computing but protocols like Message Passing Interface, or MPI. Watts said MPI requires some 380 APIs and rewriting of code to get applications grid-ready, while XLR8 will have about a dozen.

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