Sun and ISVs to Load More Applications onto Grid Utility
Published: September 7, 2006
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
Back in March, Sun Microsystems launched its utility computing product, called the Sun Grid Compute Utility, to the public. Back then, Sun had 60 independent software vendors who were in various stages of getting their applications certified for the Sun Grid, and now, Sun and those software houses want to make it easier to use the utility by putting up a catalog of applications and actually installing them on the machines.
Sun also wants to get a much broader array of ISVs to get their code ported to the utility and into a software catalog that utility users can browse and buy, says Aisling MacRunnels, senior director of utility computing at Sun. The company wants to make it as easy to get grid-enabled application software with specific industry twists as it is to get the underlying hardware capacity that runs this software.
Sun has been offering developers, academics, and other interested third parties access to the Sun Grid even before it officially launched. Developers who sign up for official Sun Grid status--of which there are now thousands, according to Macrunnels--have been given 100 CPU-hours of compute time on the utility, and in March Sun gave away 100,000 CPU-hour endowments to various universities, including Princeton University, SUNY Binghamton, Clemson, MIT, Rutgers, UC Santa Cruz, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Wisconsin. Sun is hosting 50 grid-related software projects on the utility as well.
The Sun Grid is located at www.network.com on the Internet, but is actually comprised of servers with over 5,000 processors that are located in Sun data centers in California and New Jersey in the United States and outside of London in England. The Sun Grid had 5,000 Opteron processors when it launched in March. Macrunnels won't say how many users the Sun Grid has, or what percent of capacity it is running at, but she did say that when it hits 70 percent of capacity, Sun adds systems to the utility. The fact that Sun has added systems since March means it was running at above 70 percent capacity at least once.
One customer who has been offloading some of its own compute farm work to the Sun grid is none other than server chip partner AMD, which acquired an unspecified amount of capacity on the Sun Grid to run its electronic design automation (EDA) workloads. Sun was not at liberty to be specific about what AMD is using the grid for, aside from designing circuits. But AMD is a big Hewlett-Packard customer, and by using the Sun Grid, that meant HP didn't sell as many Opteron-based servers as it otherwise might have. "AMD got up and running very quickly, and it got better performance than on its own internal systems," says Macrunnels.
Sun is, as you might imagine, examining its own internal applications to see what might work on the grid, too. Based on AMD's experience, one obvious application that could be partially shared on the Sun Grid might be Sun's own EDA compute farm, which it uses to create its Sparc processors. This compute farm has over 14,000 Sparc processors, and it is running at 99 percent capacity as Sun works on its future Niagara and Rock processors. Provided Sun's EDA applications can be moved to Opteron servers running Solaris, it might even make sense to merge the Sparc compute farm with the Sun Grid. Macrunnels also says that some customers are beginning to ask for Sparc-based systems inside the Sun Grid. Many Solaris customers have applications that have been tightly coded for Sparc chips.
Still, many others have some applications that occasionally need more engine power and that are not so tied to a particular architecture. While Sun was big on trying to peddle utility computing to financial services firms, which use Monte Carlo simulations each night to do risk analysis as they play with your money, Macrunnels says that so far the most interest is coming from EDA and various life sciences. "More companies are starting to use design simulation as part of their manufacturing processes," she explains, and many of them either need to add capacity to their own compute farms every once in a while or are trying to avoid investing in a compute farm entirely. The early Sun Grid customers that locked down a lot of the capacity in the machines in long-term contracts still use a lot of the CPU-hours on the grid, but there are a lot of software companies and independent developers that buy 20-CPU chunks for a few hours to test their code.
Sun charges $1 per CPU-hour for unscheduled, fairly instantaneous access to the utility--all you need is a credit card and a short background check--and companies that lock in longer-term commitments can get that capacity for as little as half that price.
But, like any other part of the IT racket, the success or failure at GridWorld 2006 next week, Sun will announce it is opening its Grid Readiness program with ISVs, allowing a larger number of software companies to sign up to port their code to the grid and do a pilot hosting of those applications to test it. Sun will put grid-ready applications in a catalog, which is expected to be ready by December, when the next release of the Sun Grid platform is launched. This catalog will also be demonstrated at the show next week.
"We are moving toward the day when the workload customers are running will push the platform or the grid," says Macrunnels. "This is a compelling offering. Customers want to buy come capacity internally, and they want access to some other capacity on the grid."
One final thought: If Sun's slogan is "the network is the computer," and the site where you get to the public end of the Sun Grid is www.network.com, then how come it is called the Sun Grid? Why not just The Network?
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