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Home > iSGTW 28 March 2007 > iSGTW Feature - The Path to Service Oriented Knowledge Utilities

Opinion - The Coming Software Ecosystem?

The vision of Service Orientated Knowledge Utilties suggests that in future, software will be built up from a wide range of components from many sources, like Legos.
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Defining grids has always been difficult, but two recent definitions, one by the CoreGrid project and one by the European Commission-sponsored Next Generation Grid Expert Group, strongly suggest a move toward seeing grids as Service-Oriented Knowledge Utilities. This is an extension of the concepts of Service-Oriented Infrastructure and Service-Oriented Architecture, where software and infrastructure are built up from loosely coupled and interacting services rather than as single large systems.

Underlying this view is a conviction that most complex software applications will, in the future, be dynamically built by different modules and services (such as authorization systems or search systems) which will be available in an open market of services and resources. In this sense, the Grid might be conceived as a “world wide cyber-utility” populated by automatically cooperating services that interact in a complex software ecosystem. Those services could be set up by a variety of groups, such as software companies or open source developers, but also by states and institutions as public services for their citizens. These services would be available to developers, who may choose to use software solutions from different vendors, sold at different prices, with different performance and quality-of-service agreements.

A fundamental requirement for the creation of this world wide cyber-utility is the existence of a stable, reliable, interoperable and secure infrastructure. Unfortunately, it is still unclear how and when this vision will become reality. What is more clear is that such a vision requires the joint efforts of many areas, such as grid computing and pervasive and ubiquitous computing, where all the objects around a user, even clothes and domestic appliances, contain computing systems which communicate with one another. While some of those areas are quite mature, others are still in their infancy. At present, the EGEE project and others like it are embryonic, but important, steps toward these global infrastructures that pave the way for this vision of the future software market.

At present, grid programmers spend much of their time designing and implementing efficient grid-aware applications, which is often a time-consuming and difficult task. The development of easy-to-use grid programming environments is then another important step toward a global software ecosystem. We believe that in the near future there will be a growing demand for ready-made software services, and current Web search technologies will help in the deployment of effective solutions. When all these services become available, building a grid application will become an easier process. A non-expert user, helped by a graphical interface, will be able to give a high-level description of the desired operations, which will be found in a rapidly evolving market of services. At that point, the whole Grid will become a virtual machine, tapping the power of a vast number of resources.

While exciting, there are some barriers to this vision of the future, primarily the current immaturity of the technologies aimed at producing semantically-enriched services. Today, Web services represent a standard way to publish a computing service to the Web, but in order to fully exploit them, semantic functions must be introduced. Without semantic descriptions of the services we are looking for, it is difficult for developers and users to find them in an automated way. Moreover, although there is clear trend towards Web service providers offering ready-to-use services (such as Amazon Web services and eBay Web services) only a very limited number of Web services are available today to the general user. But in this area, I believe it is only matter of time!

Domenico Laforenza is the Technology Director at the Information Science and Technologies Institute of the Italian National Research Council (CNR), in Pisa, Italy, where he is responsible for the High Performance Computing Laboratory. He chairs CoreGrid and was a member of the Next Generation Grid Expert Group between 2003 and 2005.


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