DB2/400: The Heart of a Supercomputer Cluster?
by Alex Woodie
When you think of grid computing, chances are you envision clusters of computers working to solve a scientific problem. Base One International, a New York City developer of grid software, is working to change that preconception with its development tools that create a "virtual supercomputer cluster" of PCs built around a database, such as DB2/400, that is capable of tackling everyday back-office processing.
Steve Asherman, president, chief technology officer, and co-founder of Base One, looks at all the work being done around Web services to connect disparate applications and platforms and wonders why it has to be so complex. With Web services and grid computing, many aspects of computing, such as security and reliability, are being addressed, and new protocols and layers of complexity are being brought to the table.
Asherman calls this reinventing the wheel. Most organizations already have in their possession a platform on which they have established the highest levels of security and reliability they expect to need or can afford: the database. It is through the relational database management system that Asherman and his team of developers at Base One want to enable supercomputing, distributed computing, grid computing, clustering--whatever you want to call it.
"We leverage the database security and reliability features to achieve fault tolerance," Asherman says. "Rather than having new-fangled grid computing do the reliability and security for you, and having to count on that, you're counting on something that's well established. And it's much easier to program."
Base/1 Foundation Classes provides the API that allows developers to access the database through standard SQL. Interfaces to all the major databases have been developed, tested, and put to use, including IBM DB2, Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, and Sybase. An interface to DB2/400 was recently developed and tested but has not seen production.
Base One's idea is deceptively simple: you program the nodes of your supercomputer cluster, which are Windows-based PCs, in your choice of Visual Studio languages (Base/1 Foundation Classes supports Visual Studio .NET, as well as Visual Studio 6), then put them in the control of the "supercomputer database," which could be DB2/400, Oracle, or SQL Server. The supercomputer database responds to requests for work from the PC nodes and stores the results. If a PC or server node crashes, its segment is started over, preserving fault tolerance. Control resides with the database, which, on most Unix platforms, OS/400, and mainframes, was designed to be bullet-proof.
"That's what Base/1 Foundation Classes is all about--providing a simple database interface," Asherman says. "Anybody who's ever done client-server programming can do it . . . It's actually easier to write these programs than client-server programs."
BASE/1 FOUNDATION CLASSES IN ACTION
While the idea seems simple, putting it into action is not as simple. Base One, which has been doing this since 1993, holds a couple of patents in the area. Its first client was Deutsch Bank, which wanted to share risk analysis data for its insurance business from multiple systems. That application has been running 24 hours a day for five years, Asherman says. Today the company has about 100 customers around the world and is shipping Base/1 Foundation Classes Version 7.0. The company also has a patent related to the Internet server component of its offering.
Base One has clients running what you would consider "traditional" grid or cluster workloads, mainly scientific, number-crunching programs such as drug discovery or seismic data analysis. But Asherman sees no reason why Base/1 Foundation Classes couldn't be used to run the "bread and butter" back-office applications, while maintaining the "ACID-ity" (atomicity, consistency, isolation, and durability) of transaction processing that programmers are taught in college.
"Why aren't we using more of the commodity boxes, PCs, to do the work that previously had to be done" by mainframes and midrange servers? he asks. "We're really interested in business applications. When you think about it, it's naturally easy to parallel [the workload]. One box does the A's, one box does the B's, and one box does the C's. Think about industrial production. It's possible to break up logically."
With many OS/400 servers installed at midsized and large insurance companies, risk analysis workloads become a marketable application for Base/1 Foundation Classes. Base One has also highlighted credit card processing and financial forecasting workloads, as well as large-scale transaction and batch file processing, as candidates. Doing data transformations and loading data warehouses is a "classic" use of Base One's middleware, Asherman says. The company welcomes inquiries from independent software vendors as well as organizations doing custom development.
Pricing for the Base/1 Foundation Classes development tool starts at $3,495 for a license for five developers and six users. For more information, go to www.boic.com.