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Q&A: Internet pioneer Vint Cerf on grid computing

By Ian Foster
March 25, 2005 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - In my first Computerworld column I touched briefly on the Globus Consortium's belief that open standard approaches (like the Globus Toolkit) are what will ultimately usher grid into mainstream enterprise use.
This month, I sought the wisdom of one of the pioneers of IP networking, and perhaps the most influential figure in open standards and interoperability discussions --
Vint Cerf. Currently senior vice president of technology strategy at MCI Inc., Cerf championed the TCP/IP protocol and played a vital role in steering the commercial growth of the Internet.
Here's what this icon of networking had to say about the importance of open standards in the growth of the Internet.


Talk about the role of standards in the creation of the Internet. The Internet created a layer of standardization that allowed a lot of different computers with different operating systems on different packet-switched nets to interoperate with each other. The wonderful thing about standards is that they allow different parties or systems to interoperate, even if they didn't originally come to some agreement about how they would exchange information.
The grid notion has a lot of the same characteristics. There is a layer of standardization that is above the layer of the traditional Internet protocols, but like those protocols, it creates a kind of virtual commonality between all of the participating computing systems. And that's very exciting, because in a peculiar way, this standardization creates a common clay out of which you can fashion almost anything.
In some ways, it has a characteristic not unlike electricity, where the electrons are pretty much application-insensitive, but will drive to any lights willing to accept them. The grid computing environment and the Web services environment creates this potential. I think we are far from fully realizing the full value of the grid concept.

I believe that grid is still in the early stages of bridging the gap between research and enterprise. How do technologists differ politically from the research realm to the commercial realm? In the hands of government research, the possibility of exploring something that on the face of it, might not yet have economic viability, is extremely important. The Internet certainly wasn't an economically viable thing until routers were available and Cisco and other companies were building them. So the economics depended very heavily on investment from industry seeing an opportunity to build and sell something.
The promise of grid, being able to virtualize the computing, storage and communication resources -- and to turn all of the resources on the Internet into a sort of virtual, gigantic multiprocessor --



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