Volume 5, Number 6 -- February 14, 2008

Sun Builds Out Application Catalog on Network.com Grid

Published: February 14, 2008

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

It is hard to believe, but the grid/utility computing complex that Sun Microsystems announced with much fanfare is now three years old. And while it is no longer a freestanding unit, but rather part of Sun's Software division, the Sun Grid (now mostly known simply as Network.com), demonstrates utility computing is still something that the company believes in as a long-term prospect for the IT industry.

Rather than building a big data center with tens of thousands of servers and hoping that customers come and pay $1 per CPU per hour for computing capacity, Sun initially built a number of modest data centers and set to work building the systems management tools and gaining experience actually loading applications and data on the grid and supporting customers. Sun also toyed with the idea of using the machines it was selling to customers during their burn in cycle--a brilliant idea, really--to host utility applications from customers, but last year decided to consolidate its Sun Grid data centers down to one facility at an undisclosed location in the United States. (My guess is that it is either where vice president Dick Cheney goes when things get bad, or Sun is renting a corner in some Google data center for the gear.)

Sun has resisted the temptation to allow Windows and Linux operating systems to be hosted on the utility, something it clearly wanted to do with its initial aspirations from three years ago and could do thanks to its embracing of Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron processors in its "Galaxy" server line. For now, the utility is a Solaris-only space, and Sun seems happy to use it as a means of giving its software partners a way to play around with utility pricing for software and processing capacity. Sun is not even sure how many customers are using the grid, in fact, since partners buy capacity in bulk and resell it to their own customers. According to Mark Herring, senior director of software marketing at Sun, the Sun Grid has hosted on the order of 1 million unique jobs in its three years, representing tens of thousands of individual programmer, partner, and corporate end users. Because of the reseller deals that Sun cuts with its software partners who load software on the jukebox behind the Sun Grid, the total number of unique customers could be as much as an order of magnitude higher, says Herring.

And significantly for customers who have bought capacity in the 26 countries where the Sun Grid is available--with the Netherlands being added this week--Sun is still charging $1 per CPU core per hour for raw, instant capacity, with discounts for customers who sign long-term contracts. Customers outside the United States, where their currencies are strong compared to a weak greenback, are able to get capacity at a significantly lower price than they would have been able to do three years ago. (Perhaps it is time for Sun to get a data center back in England supporting a few pods of the utility, so it can charge in pounds, and in Europe somewhere so it can charge in euros?)

In addition to announcing the expansion of the utility computing offering into the Netherlands this week (which is more a function of adhering to local laws and taxation than it is providing access to Network.com), Sun is also announcing that 14 new applications are running on the grid, bringing the total application count up to 40 programs. Among them is a program called Blender, which is a digital rendering tool; Sun is also donating capacity from the utility to an open source movie called Peach that the Blender community is making. A computational mathematics application called GAP and a computer-aided engineering tool called OOFEM are also among the new applications on the utility.

Sun is not yet providing access to the Network.com utility to countries in South America, and parts of Europe and Asia still do not have access as yet, either. But as customers and ISVs show interest, Sun can pretty quickly roll out access to these areas.


ISVs Preload Applications on the Sun Grid

Sun and ISVs to Load More Applications onto Grid Utility

Sun Gives Developers Free Access to Grid Utility, Other Goodies

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,
Shannon O'Donnell, Timothy Prickett Morgan
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