Volume 3, Number 20 -- May 23, 2006

Sun Gives Developers Free Access to Grid Utility, Other Goodies

Published: May 23, 2006

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

From the moment that Sun Microsystems divulged its intentions with utility computing, which are embodied in the Sun Grid compute and storage utilities, Sun has been very clear about a few key ideas. It doesn't want to own a utility that customers pay to use so much as build a test utility that pays for itself and also allows it to create the intellectual property that it can, in turn, sell. The Sun Grid is also about developers. And last week, Sun is finally offering developers access to the grid and tools to make creating utility-style applications a little easier.

Since the advent of Java 11 years ago, Sun has increasingly relied on the Java development community to give it weight in the market. Sun might have started out as a Unix workstation vendor that helped forge a huge and profitable Unix server market, but when it comes to actually interacting with millions of people, Java is by far its most pervasive technology. Sun's new chief executive officer, Jonathan Schwartz, is a software nerd, and like many others in Sun's top brass, he believes that by creating a massive and strong Java community, Sun will eventually sells lots of products and services. The same holds true for the Sun Grid.

Last year, Sun was letting selected commercial customers test out the Sun Grid compute utility, and this March it opened it up to the public. Anyone can log into the utility, sign up for access, go through a security screening process, and buy dozens, hundreds, or thousands of CPU-hours of computing capacity. But there are relatively very few grid-enabled business applications in the world, which means companies are a little unsure of how to use the utility. Which is why Sun announced at the JavaOne 2006 event in San Francisco this week that it is giving free access to the utility to coders who sign up for the Sun Grid developer community. According to Aisling MacRunnels, senior director of utility computing at Sun, the company is not only giving 100 free CPU hours to developers, but has tweaked its development tools and the software in the Sun Grid itself to allow developers to develop grid-enabled applications from their desktops, test on their desktops, and deploy them automatically to the utility. Developers are also able to throttle back on the number of CPUs they use as they test their code.

These development tools are based on technologies pulled from the Solaris, Java, and NetBeans IDE development teams, and are collectively known as the Compute Server Community Project, and the first piece of code that it has released is a plug-in for the open source NetBeans IDE that will allow applications written in Java to automatically be parallelized (to the extent possible in the application, of course) to run on the Sun Grid or a third-party grid using the same tools. The plug-in for NetBeans is being released as open source code under the Apache License v2.0. Members of the Sun Grid developer community can get early access to this plug-in.

The developer community that Sun has set up behind the Sun Grid utility also includes a code repository and lifecycle management software hosted by CollabNet, plus grid documentation, code and application samples, forums, chats, and newsgroups. CollabNet is already behind the Java, NetBeans, and OpenOffice projects.

For independent software vendors who are more serious about grid and utility computing, Sun is carving out a slice of the grid and giving them their own space to have a private project space. So far, 25 ISVs have been given their own private space, which means they can code collaboratively on the Sun Grid, but not show the outside world what they are up to. The word on the street is that Sun has several thousand ISVs who are looking to start developing grid-enabled applications.

Finally, Sun has launched a contest, akin to American Idol, for developers to show off their grid-enabled applications called the Utility Cool Apps Prize, which will give $50,000 in prizes to developers whose wares get a lot of attention in the community; Sun will add another $50,000 in prizes later this year.


The X Factor: If Sun Builds a Grid, Will They Come?

Hackers Take a Whack at the Sun Grid Utility

Sun Grid Compute Utility Opens for Public Business

Sun Plugs the Grid Some More, Adds Some Features

Sun Aspires to Be the General Electric of the Grid Era

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Editor: Timothy Prickett Morgan
Contributing Editors: Dan Burger, Joe Hertvik, Kevin Vandever,
Shannon O'Donnell, Victor Rozek, Hesh Wiener, Alex Woodie
Publisher and Advertising Director: Jenny Thomas
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