Feature - Grids go to Market
Tycoon is a software system designed to manage IT resources by putting compute cycles, data storage and bandwidth up for auction. Hewlett-Packard researcher and Tycoon developer Bernardo Huberman believes market-based systems are the way of the allocating future.
"There was initially a lot of resistance to allocating resources in this way," says Huberman. However, he explains, a market-based system is more efficient than traditional first-come-first-serve plans. It encourages people to be more truthful in their service requests, reduces idle CPU time and delivers resources in a speedy, agile manner.
Through Hewlett-Packard's involvement in the CERN openlab industrial partnership, Tycoon has recently been deployed on nodes at CERN and other sites within the EGEE grid infrastructure. The insights gained from these tests may help scientists allocate grid resources more efficiently.
Huberman developed Tycoon based on experience with a system called Spawn that he initiated while at Xerox Palo Alto Research Centre in the early 1990s. The system negotiated access to idle CPU time in a local area network. Spawn allowed him to test ideas about auctioning of CPU time, in particular the concept of second-highest bid price, where the highest bidder pays the second highest bid price. This concept has several benefits, for example ensuring that resources with only one bidder are free. But the rapid growth in desktop power at the time meant that demand for distributed computing power of this kind never materialized.
Fast forward to the era of grids, utility computing and on-demand resources: Huberman saw in this trend a new opportunity for a market-based system for allocating computing power. He coined the term 'computon' to describe the units that would be traded on such a market. In 2004, Huberman's colleague Kevin Lai implemented Tycoon, using a different bidding mechanism this time around, namely proportional bidding.
"If you bid one dollar and I bid two dollars for a machine, you get a third of the machine and I get two thirds," explains Huberman.
So far, most of the bidding for resources using Tycoon happens within institutional boundaries. As this sort of usage increases, a key part of the Tycoon model will be a central bank facility to clear payments for resources. Huberman's team at HP is already working on linking this central bank to PayPal, so that real commercial transactions will be possible. They have also been using game theory to analyze optimal strategies for bidding for resources, as well as an experimental economics laboratory to test reservation systems on real users.
Where does Huberman see Tycoon leading, ultimately?
"I really believe that eventually, HP can become a market maker, a sort of eBay of IT." Scientists may instinctively balk at a market mechanism, but if Tycoon provides them with cheaper and more abundant resources, they will surely embrace it.
To learn more about the Tycoon and CERN openlab partnership read here.
- Francois Grey