Microsoft Invites Collaboration With Grid Computing Research

Microsoft has released details about its SecPAL project to encourage collaboration from the grid computing community on methods for greater security and access controls.

Microsoft created SecPAL, or Security Policy Assertion Language, as a research project to develop a language for expressing decentralized authorization policies. The project also investigates computing language design and semantics as well as related algorithms and analysis techniques.

Microsoft hopes the SecPAL project will lead to developing a simpler, more accurate way of expressing decentralized authorization policies in a grid environment through a logic-based security policy language.

The software firm hopes that making available the implementation and design information from its SecPAL project will encourage the security and grid research communities to test and experiment with it.

“One of the issues in grid computing is delegation of access rights. This is a key issue for enterprise users, who have trouble managing grid security,” Blair Dillaway, lead software architect for Microsoft, told TechNewsWorld.

Grid Computing Exposed

Grid Computing is a process that links computers in separate locations to combined computational resources. By sharing computer resources on a grid, users can operate a unified resource for solving large-scale compute and data-intensive computing applications.

The Open Grid Services Architecture (OGSA) is an open set of standards and protocols that forms the basis for grid computing. The OGSA enables communication across heterogeneous, geographically dispersed environments. Grid computing provides organizations a way to optimize computing and data resources. Grid users can pool the grid resources for large capacity workloads and share them across networks for collaboration.

Software developers such as Microsoft, IBM and Oracle develop products that provide an infrastructure for grid computing for the enterprise community. Grid computing is sometimes referred to as distributed computing or virtualization computing.

SecPAL Explained

Microsoft began researching a security language policy for grid computers about two years ago, Dillaway said. The need for improved security language protocols results from an increasing interest in enterprise circles for grid computing.

Different solutions evolved by various researchers, but none of the security and access solutions was very encompassing. SecPAL is designed to be broadly applicable, according to Dillaway.

“We made it flexible enough to work with several grid platforms. We have been experimenting with SecPAL internally for one year. I feel very positive about this progress,” he said.

Expert Opinions

The next step in achieving industry acceptance for SecPAL is to get more eyes on this technology. Microsoft is now releasing the details and a copy of the implementation along with language design to the grid community, Dillaway explained.

“We may see more scenarios and language refinement,” he explained.

The University of Virginia and the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne are actively trying SecPAL. Other universities and organizations have downloaded the information but haven’t responded yet, Dillaway noted.

Security Main Goal

Effective solutions for regulating user policies for grid computing will require broad cooperation. Microsoft is making the overture now to share in the process, according to Dillaway, who said SecPAL development has a long way to go before it can be fully implemented.

“Security is big concern before adopters make a plunge,” he said. “SecPAL is not going to be the only solution to the grid security issue.”

Microsoft is going public with its research to try to help move it along, Dillaway said.

“Most big companies have mainframe and Unix computing systems. We need to make it all work together. Microsoft is open to more collaboration with other developers,” he said.

Open Grid Forum

While the research on grid computing and and regulating user policies is far from complete, Dillaway is not sure how much time will be devoted to finalizing SecPAL. He hopes to see some convergence over the next two years because grid computing is starting to impact on mainstream business.

Microsoft released SecPAL in an effort to generate a response at the 20th Open Grid Forum, to be held May 7 through May 11 in Manchester, England.

The forum, hosted by UK e-Science and the University of Manchester, is expected to attract strong interest from the global Grid community to develop Grid standards, showcase real-world applications and discuss large-scale grid infrastructure techniques and applications.

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