Powers Unfiltered

An entrepreneur’s journey into grid computing and partnering with Microsoft, by John Powers

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Full Circle

June 26th, 2010 · No Comments

Leaving the energy industry turns out to be harder than I thought.

When we started Digipede (more than 7 years ago!), my partners and I had spent more than a decade working together in the electric utility industry, and frankly were ready for something new.  While some of the ideas that eventually became Digipede had been rattling around in our heads for years, we built the Digipede Network as a general-purpose grid computing framework, not a tool for electric utility IT departments.  Indeed, while we knew grid computing was important in finance, military, biotech, and manufacturing applications, we didn’t think utilities would be particularly interested.

I guess you never know.

Over the past year, one of our hottest segments has been the electric utility industry.  We now have customers in generation, transmission, distribution, and power marketing companies, running a variety of applications from risk management to market simulation models.  We’ve had an opportunity to work with utility software giant Ventyx (recently purchased by even-more-giant ABB, the same ABB that bought our previous utility software company Energy Interactive — I think the world really is smaller than I realized…).

Our first bit of collaboration with Ventyx has involved adapting their energy planning and analytics software tool, PROMOD IV, to run on the Digipede Network.  This has been an instant hit with utility customers.  (OK, the phrase “instant hit” may not quite capture the pace of utility procurement processes, but you get the idea.)

PROMOD is a very detailed simulation model, and users often have to run thousands of scenarios — so projects can take days to complete on a single high-performance workstation.  (Indeed, my first encounter with PROMOD was in the early 1980s, on a mainframe at Portland General Electric, but that’s another “small world” story…)  Users tell us they end up walking from machine to machine starting multiple runs before going home at night — we call this behavior, which goes far beyond the utility industry, the “sneaker grid.”

Not surprisingly, “sneaker grid” users make GREAT Digipede customers, because (a) they know how inefficient and limited such manual work is, and (b) work is really piling up!  Ventyx knows this too, and actually had a grid solution through Sun a few years ago — but nobody wanted to install a Sun grid for a single application when all their other infrastructure was on Windows.  Opportunity knocks…

Now PROMOD IV users have a scalable solution that allows them to get order-of-magnitude increases in modeling throughput, using the tools and platform they already know and understand.  Ventyx and Digipede worked together on a description of this solution, which can be found here.

So now I’m a grid computing guy AND a utility guy.  Full circle.

Tags: Grid applications · Utility Industry

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