"Remember, everything we do gets hijacked by marketing." That was the warning Sun Microsystems chief researcher John Gage had for developers working on emerging grid computing standards at the Global Grid Forum in Seattle this week.
The intense expectations that have emerged around grid computing put the onus on those who are developing the technology to be careful with the language they use to explain it, Gage said in the opening keynote address to about 700 attendees at this week's event.
"The language really matters, and confusion on language can be really damaging," Gage said. Citing Sun's experience with Java as an example, he warned developers about the dangers of hype and cautioned them that grid computing risks becoming a catch-all phrase that promises more than it ever can deliver.
"Because of the success of grid, we’re hearing that grid solves all problems of interconnecting devices, whether they’re cameras, sensors, or astronomical imaging devices," he said.
Grid computing has received more than its fair share of hype, agreed Charlie Catlett, the chair of the Global Grid Forum (GGF), in an interview after Gage's speech. "The whole hype factor is something that concerns all of us," he said.
The term has been used to describe a myriad of computing scenarios, from harnessing the processing power in networked PCs to build a vast, distributed "supercomputer," to an alternative architecture for the Internet that will provide the underpinnings for Web services and other distributed applications.
The marketing hype seems an unavoidable side-effect, as big vendors such as IBM, Microsoft and Gage's own Sun Microsystems latch onto a technology that was once the domain of academics and researchers, but is now being touted as the Next Big Thing in computing.
More involvement in grid computing by vendors and corporations translates into more marketing people trying to explain the concept, Catlett said. And that can lead to confusion and mixed messages. Trying to control the marketing messages of every company now involved in grid computing would be a daunting task, he said.
"If we were a single company we would have only one set of marketing folks to rein in," he said.
Forty per cent of developers involved in grid development now work for commercial entities, as opposed to government or academic organisations, for example, and the proportion of work being done by corporate developers rather than federally funded coders is increasing, Catlett said.
Already, "caricatures" of grid computing have begun to circulate, Catlett said. The Seti@home project, for example, "could certainly be called a grid application, but that's not what grids are all about," he said. "It's sort of like saying that the Internet is email. It's not untrue, but the Internet is a lot more than email," he explained.
Attendees have gathered here in Seattle for their thrice yearly three-day conference, where they meet in more than 60 working groups to hammer out their differences and advance the emerging set of grid computing standards that will let computers to better share their resources over the Internet.
The GGF is working on a wide variety of standards encompassing security, scheduling and resource management, performance management, and data management.