November 24, 2004

ActiveGrid plans to develop open source grid computing

Author: Tina Gasperson

ActiveGrid is a new open source software company that hopes to capitalize on an idea it calls "commercial open source." It has already convinced a couple of venture capitalists to front $3 million to develop a tool called the Grid Application Server.ActiveGrid CEO and founder Peter Yared says that his product, based on open source LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, Perl, Python, PHP) technology, will make it possible for a small company to build "massively scaled" applications. He says ActiveGrid will "productize" the methods already in use by companies such as Google or the Sabre travel reservation system, something no other company has done before.

Using the Sabre system as an example, Yared illustrates the usefulness of LAMP in transaction-based requirements. Travel agents were once the only customers using the Sabre reservation network, so the system had to produce only one kind of transaction for a limited number of simultaneous users. Now that the Internet allows anyone to check for flight information through Web sites like Expedia.com or Travelocity.com, the usage has gone from hundreds at a time to literally millions at a time. In order to handle the load, Sabre IT staff redesigned the system so that the public would receive flight information that was delayed by one hour, but travel agents would still get real-time data. Its servers had to be able to adapt instantaneously, delivering the right kind of content depending on whom the request was coming from. LAMP fit the bill, but it was a custom-created solution. "They've handcrafted clusters to meet their goals," Yared says. "We're packaging those techniques so that companies can dynamically adapt them to business policies."

ActiveGrid, says Yared, represents a shift away from J2EE because it allows businesses to spread the work of millions of transactions at a time "horizontally" across a grid of low-cost computers running Linux. The old-fashioned way has been to spread the work load "vertically" through pricier hardware. Grids, or clusters, have traditionally been used for scientific applications or CPU-intensive graphics projects; only a few companies, such as Google, Amazon.com, and Sabre have adopted the technology for transaction-based environments. Yared hopes to bring grid technology to the "masses" of small to medium business by packaging it in a way that is less intimidating.

Yared says that ActiveGrid commercializing open source by bringing innovation to the table. "Many times, open source projects have been about duplication and emulating something that a commercial product already does, like duplicating Web server capability. ActiveGrid is taking open source to the next level. We're doing something you can't do with available commercial software."

Before founding ActiveGrid, Yared was CTO of Sun Microsystems' Liberty Network Identity initiative, and CTO of Sun Microsystems' Application Server Division. He's working with ActiveGrid vice president of marketing and business development Jeff Veis, who also came from Sun and was the founder of the Liberty Network Identity initiative.

Two venture capital companies, Hummer Winblad Venture Partners and Allegis Capital, last week agreed to supply ActiveGrid with $3 million in Series A funding, with the potential for more if things go well for the startup.

Yared says the ActiveGrid platform will be released with a BSD-style open source license. The company will offer additional features, hosting, and technical support under closed licensing terms, he says.

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