IBM, Sun Microsystems, HP and Intel have combined forces to improve open-source grid development efforts and accelerate business adoption.

The companies announced that they have formed a consortium to put money and expertise toward improving the Globus Toolkit, the open-source development project of the Chicago-based Globus Alliance. The alliance is a volunteer organisation that was formed in the mid-1990s and attracted early grid users in academic and government research.

The new Globus Consortium's "goal is to proactively address the issue of grid computing in enterprises," said consortium head Greg Nawrocki, who will lead the industry group. "Our belief is that open source is the key to grid in the enterprise."

Initially, the consortium will develop a priority bug-fixing scheme for the tool kit, said Nawrocki, with other development efforts to be detailed later. Nawrocki coordinated Globus Toolkit-based application projects at the Argonne National Laboratory.

Although grid users and analysts had some concerns about the newly formed group, the vendor push to strengthen the Globus Toolkit for commercial enterprise adoption was seen as a largely positive step.

"My first impression is that it is probably a good thing," said Bill Olson, vice president of engineering at Iron Mountain, of this new industry group. "The more stable it (the Globus Toolkit) is, the more attractive it becomes."

Iron Mountain is a Boston-based data protection firm that uses grid technology in its database management.

"A number of companies want to see the software move forward faster than what is possible by volunteers," said Ian Foster, who heads the distributed systems lab at Argonne and who led the team that developed the Globus Toolkit. Foster is also a founder of the recently formed Chicago-based Univa, which is part of the new group and is providing technical support and professional services for Globus software.

William Fellows, an analyst at The 451 Group in New York, said the consortium might strengthen Globus as well as return it to its open-source roots.

Fellows said that grid users see "a need for a single set of grid standards, not multiple standards or stacks; common APIs for developers to write to; (and) standard ways of getting data into and out of grids." He wondered how the new consortium -- or another vendor group, the Enterprise Grid Alliance -- will support these requirements.

The Enterprise Grid Alliance, an industry group, is focused on enterprise grid adoption and working on such problems as provisioning large enterprise data files and databases. Oracle is among its members, which also includes those involved in the Globus Consortium, including Sun, HP and Intel.

Jonathan Eunice, an analyst at Illuminata, said users can welcome the arrival of the Globus Consortium but remain sceptical of its ultimate plans.

"There is no reason not to welcome an organisation that is committed to further developing standards and further building enterprise computing atop vibrant standards and compatible implementations," said Eunice. But, conversely, "the proof is in the pudding. Enterprises should welcome the vendors and other developers working better together, but should not consider that process to be an outcome."

In addition to the industry groups and the Globus Alliance, there are standards development groups. The Global Grid Forum, as well as some other older standards organisations, such as the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) and World Wide Web Consortium, develops grid standards.

Mark Linesch, who heads the Global Grid Forum, and who also works for HP, said the emergence of all these groups may create some confusion, but he also sees it as a "sign of health" for grid development.

"What it says is that more people are turning their awareness" to collaboration, commerce and information integration, as well as tools "and what's real and not real."