The Cyberinfrastructure Summer Institute for Geoscientists

In the US, the National Science Foundation (NSF) continues to place emphasis on cyberinfrastructures. Of course, such an emphasis requires that the prosumers of such a cyberinfrastructure be properly prepared. To this end, The Cyberinfrastructure Summer Institute for Geoscientists (CSIG) aims to assist with the preparation. At their upcoming event, the intention is to cover a broad range of topics:

  • Web services
  • Workflows
  • Knowledge representation – “… including a discussion of technologies related to Data Registration, Ontology-based Search, and Data Integration …”
  • Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

Such workshops are to be applauded, as bringing the gap between IT and the communities it serves is essential for real progress. The event’s Web site will be worth revisiting after the mid-August event as content is made available.

Introducing The Open SOA Collaboration

The Open Service Oriented Architecture (OSOA) Collaboration has recently launched a Web site where they self-describe as:

… an informal alliance of industry leaders that share a common interest: defining a language-neutral programming model that meets the needs of enterprise developers who are developing software that exploits Service Oriented Architecture characteristics and benefits. The Collaboration is not a Standards Body; it is an alliance who wish to innovate rapidly in the development of this programming model and to deliver Specifications to the community for implementation. These specifications are made available to the community on a Royalty Free basis for the creation of compatible implementations. When mature, the intent is to hand these specifications over to a suitable Standards Body for future shepherding.

This is an interesting addition to the standards ecosystem for at least a few reasons:

  • The emphasis on rapid innovation and results – Stereotypically, standards efforts move at glacial rates of progress. Open Source and commercial software developers often need to innovate swiftly. In the absence of existing standards, developers do what’s necessary to make progress. This may result in the short-term gain of implemented software. However, overall benefit to all stakeholders may in fact take longer to be realized by highly fragmented efforts.
  • The royalty-free nature of resulting specifications – Clearly a must-have for any degree of traction, such statements need to be fully appreciated from an Intellectual Property perspective. Such clauses, and indeed the collaboration as whole, make it challenging for software developers to differentiate their offerings.
  • The membership is already impressive – To quote from GRIDtoday “… BEA Systems, IBM, IONA, Oracle, SAP AG, Sybase, Xcalia and Zend have been joined by Cape Clear, Interface21, Primeton Technologies, Progress Software (formerly Sonic Software), Red Hat, Rogue Wave Software, Software AG, Sun Microsystems and TIBCO Software. With the new partners on board, the group of 17 organizations spans SOA and applications companies to infrastructure and open source providers.”
  • There are impressive technical outcomes already – These outcomes relate to the organization’s focus on Service Component Architecture (SCA) and Service Data Objects (SDO). (Given my interest in DFDL, I’m interested in following the ongoing development of SDO.)

Although I haven’t verified this yet, I expect that Grid Computing has helped to influence this activity. (For example, I recognize the name of at least one participant who was very active in the Global Grid Forum, GGF.) Ironically, influencer is a role that Grid Computing continues to play all too well.

Executive Director’s Update on the Open Grid Forum

In newsletter dated 26 July 2006, executive director Steve Crumb writes:

On July 1, Open Grid Forum officially opened its doors and much has been accomplished in the last month. Over 1/3 of the former GGF and EGA organizational members have already committed to membership in OGF with more committing each week. Nine of these organizations have given written or verbal commitments to Platinum (highest) level membership. Several merger integration projects are in progress ranging from a website upgrade to the formation of the Technical Strategy Committee (TSC) to planning for our formal “launch” at the GridWorld/GGF18 event. Standards Area Directors are meeting today and tomorrow in London to discuss near-term direction and how to increase the momentum that has made GGF’s document series grow significantly in the last 12 months with high-quality specifications. Community leadership is refining its strategy for high-impact activities at GridWorld including a great community program as well as a new effort to engage grid vendors in the adoption of grid specifications. In short, OGF is continuing the good work GGF has done for the last several years and, with the infusion of EGA leadership, technical groups and enterprise focus, is becoming an organization that will deliver results faster, communicate more clearly, and enable better collaboration. Stay tuned for more updates in the near future.

Although these things take time, I’m not encouraged by the one-third commitment to OGF by organizations that were already members of GGF and/or EGA. This makes me wonder how much the membership was consulted prior to, and involved in, the merger of GGF and EGA.

Also, it’s unfortunate that interaction with other standards organizations isn’t top-of-mind for OGF. I believe that OGF needs to make this a priority. And as I wrote in GRIDtoday, the Web services area is key in this regard.

HPCS 2006 Follow Up

The formal citations for the published HPCS 2006 papers have recently become available. (I’ve updated my publications page accordingly.)

Even though I wasn’t able to participate in the entire event, the part I did experience was worthwhile. In addition to the academic aspects, the organizers treated us to some excellent East Coast hospitality on The Rock (aka. Newfoundland). The treats included exposure to their food, culture and humour.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s event which will be held in Saskatoon.

Blogging as a Writer’s Tool

I recently had an article published in an online journal. The published version is a completely revised and expanded version of a blog entry. In fact, I used the blog entry to present the storyline to the editor of the online journal. Since publication, I have used my blog to discuss the article. Based on this experience, I feel that blogging can be useful during many phases of the writing process.

  • Blogging captures a story and/or storyline as it is still germinating – This is very important for those in a stimuli-rich world, as one’s attention span is at best fleeting. Blogging allows one to capture and then refine. (Here I use refine to imply both the process of editing and elaborating.) My blog-to-article example above illustrates refinement. Even comments on blogs provide a form of refinement. In fact, comments on blogs might be regarded as a method of stepwise refinement.
  • Blogging shares stories and/or storylines with others – Blogging offers just the right degree of formality. It encourages the author to use simple language and to be informal, while also to be clear and concise.
  • Blogging enables feedback on a story and/or storyline while it is still germinating and even after it’s published – This is also very valuable, as it allows the writer to retain a degree of attachment with the writing. By keeping a fraction of the writing lodged in the writer’s cache, possibilities for additional refinement are present. Eventually, this can develop into promotion of one’s writing.

Though not necessarily a consequence of the experience described above, here are some other thoughts on blogging as a writer’s tool:

  • Blogging creates writing opportunities – I’ve had numerous articles published on science and technology. This is the first time I’ve ever written about writing as a process. Prior to this blog entry, such introspection would’ve been limited to informal dialogue with a colleague in person, over the phone or via email. Perhaps this is why blogging is so enabling. Like email, in many ways it’s closer to being more of an oral rather than written form of communication.
  • Blogging creates IP challenges – One of the gravest challenges with blogs is intellectual property or IP. The IP spectrum spans from personal IP (not wanting to publically scoop yourself) to corporate IP (not wanting to publically scoop your employer). Both have the potential to present challenges. However, as others have written elsewhere, the benefits (as above) typically outweigh the downside.
  • Blogging enables exploration of the breadth and depth of my interests – In the past, every time something became interesting, I’d set up a mailing list. However, over time, my interest typically focuses then defocuses in a nondeterministic progression. Blogs and blogging allows my time-dependent interests to be handled with ease.

I spent a few minutes Googling for keyword combinations on this topic. In all honesty, I didn’t come up with very much too quickly. There was, however, one notable exception that even Writer’s Write has glommed on to. That exception is the following quote from Chris Anderson, the author of The Long Tail:

IWM: You’re writing a blog for “The Long Tail” book. What has it taught you?

Anderson: I think it’s a fantastic aid, especially under circumstances like mine. It had three advantages for me, as I was writing a non-fiction, research-heavy book that was based on an article already published.

By feeding the conversation, it allowed me to keep the momentum of the article going during the 22-month dead time between the publication of the article and the book. I gave away some of my research results and ideas, but got back many times that in comments, other people’s blog posts and emails.

Hundreds of people applied The Long Tail to their own industries and experience and revealed resonances I never would have thought of, from The Long Tail of beer to travel to warfare. I tossed out half-baked ideas and phrasing, and my smart readers helped me bake them. Those thousands of readers have great word-of-mouth influence, which I imagine will help market the book when it comes out.

I’m sure that more-exhaustive searches will be revealing.

Virtual XML

In the current issue of the IBM Systems Journal, Rose et al. write:

Although much work has been done on virtualization of physical servers and provisioning of applications over a grid of such servers, less attention has been given to the idea of virtualization of data resources and the use of fewer languages for querying, reporting, and manipulating stored data.

Thus their objective is to present “the idea of information virtualization by using the eXtensible Markup Language (XML) data model as the framework.” Rose et al.:

  • Describe their toolbox – XPath, a cursor model, data-access patterns, DFDL, processing languages
  • Provide five use cases – a sensor-based computer system, a commercial broker system, an archival system, a file access method and a data-aggregator application
  • Identify their reference implementation

Rose et al.’s work has much in common with a data model I developed with Keith Aldridge of York University. Motivated by an actual use case in global geophysics, our data model is also XML-based. More specifically, our model is based on XML dialect Earth Sciences Markup Language (ESML) for a number of reasons:

  • ESML makes use of XML Schema (XSD)
  • ESML provides support for ASCII-format files
  • ESML has Earth Science affinities
  • ESML has industry standard affinities (specifically DFDL)
  • ESML is being used in large-scale projects (like LEAD)

In addition to XPath and XQuery, Keith and I alluded to the use of XInclude, XPointer and XSLT.

Of course, as we discussed in our paper and elaborated on elsewhere, this is only the begining. The begining of a path that starts with metadata and results in the enhancement in the semantic expressivity and richness of representing data.

GRIDtoday Article on the Open Grid Forum: Post at Grid Meter

In a recent post, I shared feedback on my GRIDtoday article on the Open Grid Forum (OGF). Unfortunately, I was unaware of a Grid Meter post written by Globus Consortium president Greg Nawrocki. If Greg’s response is typical of the Grid community, then I’m delighted that my GRIDtoday article was taken constructively.

Amongst other points, Greg offers explanations for the situation as it exists today:

There is still today a lack of the enterprise proof points and third party validation that is needed to show that there is substance to the promise of grid computing. Organizations like OGF will help, but there needs to be and increased concentration on organizational support, enterprise case studies and direct application of the technology to name a few.

I couldn’t agree more!

The GRIDtoday article was also highlighted in Grid Blog.

GRIDtoday Article on the Open Grid Forum: One Week Later

Last week, ezine GRIDtoday published my contributed opinion on the creation of the Open Grid Forum (OGF). I remain enthusiastic about the merger that created OGF. However, I also remain skeptical that this merger will have a major impact. (More on that below.) According to GRIDtoday’s stats, mine was last week’s second most-read item. I drew second to a Q&A piece with OGF president and CEO Mark Linesch. I’m good with this 🙂

Not entirely to my surprise, none of the feedback I’ve received privately or publicly has indicated that I was way off base in this item. Nonetheless, there was feedback to the original blog entry on which the GRIDtoday item was based.

Virtualization and Grid Computing aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. I confess I painted them as such in the GRIDtoday item. I equated virtualization with vmWare and the like. I did this for two reasons. Firstly, to effectively argue my point. And secondly, to represent the non-Grid perception that is pervasive elsewhere in IT. As I presented and wrote numerous times while with Platform Computing, Grid technology can be used to create virtualization solutions. And vendors like Platform can also use virtualization technology to create grids. This reciprocity provides a excellent segue to my next point.

Grid Computing means everything and nothing. In other words, the definition remains contentious. This is true despite the existence of a three-point checklist from Ian Foster. Foster, along with collaborator Carl Kesselman, is responsible for coining the The Grid. In addition to this and other technical definitions, there are marketing and other definitions of Grid Computing. The number of times Grid-related panel sessions devolved into heated discussions on the definition of Grid is also testimony to this difficulty. How much effort is spent debating the definition of Web services or virtualization? How much confusion is created when such definitions are provided? Not a lot in the case of Web services or virtualization. And in these cases, most people have some idea as to the context. Can the same be said for Grid Computing? Not in my estimation. I believe that all of this underlies the everything-and-nothing nature of the beast. It’s not a great start when uncertainty principles apply to something as basic as a definition.

Customers just need to get things done. If what they use is standards-compliant that’s great. If it isn’t, but allows them to make progress, then that’s fine too. This applies to some customers, but not all. (I wrote about the value of standards to customers elsewhere. Now as a customer, I do what I can to make standards-wise choices.) Needless to say, standards-cavalier attitudes don’t help the fortunes of organizations like OGF.

I know it sounds cliche, but this is a critical time for OGF and for Grid Computing. I still believe that “Grid computing sorely needs to deliver definitive outcomes that really matter.”

In a future entry, I’ll try to share some suggestions for such outcomes and Grid Computing in general. If you have any suggestions, feel free to comment on this entry or drop me a line via email to ian DOT lumb AT rogers DOT com. I look forward to hearing from you.