Sun Ready to Light Public Grid

Sun Microsystems’ pay-per-use grid initiative is in use commercially and
has “thousands of customers” waiting in the wings for a public launch.

A recent media report alleged that Sun’s pay-per-use $1 per CPU hour
initiative, which will launch during the next few weeks according to a company spokeswoman, had yet to log a single customer.

But Sun has a somewhat
different view of the success of its initiative, which it first announced in September 2004.

At the company’s Network Computing ’05 (NC05Q1) event in February, it revealed further details of the plan, which involves massive computing
power on Opteron processor-based Sun Fire servers running Solaris 10.

Aisling MacRunnels, senior director of utility computing at Sun, explained that in February, the company clarified where it was going to go and put out a definition of what the industry should aspire to.

“We are committed to that definition and have launched the pay-per-use
utility over that time and have customers,” MacRunnels told “We are now getting ready to open the doors on this to the public.”

After Sun’s announcement, the company garnered interest from
oil and gas financial companies that had an immediate need. MacRunnels
explained that in order to meet that need, Sun developed a commercial compute
utility that is a $1 per-CPU per-hour with companies committing to volume

“These customers tend to want full use of those CPUs and are not dialing
up and down within minutes, getting on and off the way the other [public]
utility is envisioned,” MacRunnels said. “Those are mainstream corporate
customers and we have them today. We made good on the promise, and it is
available now.

“Now we’re pushing that to the next step, which is opening it up
completely such that anyone can do it,” she added.

The vision for the public utility sees anyone being able to go to a
portal, open an account, purchase CPU hours with PayPal, and dial up and
dial down how many CPUs they use instantaneously.

According to MacRunnels, Sun has been beta testing it and have thousands of users on it internally with an expected public launch sometime in the next several weeks.

“That means that you sitting at home, at your desk, on your laptop in
your bedroom could decide to go out and use 1,000 CPUs just with
your credit card,” MacRunnels said.

MacRunnels noted there is a degree of pent-up demand for a public grid
computing utility service. She noted that Sun started to take requests from
interested parties back in March.

“Basically I’ve got thousands of interested parties in the queue waiting
for this release.”

Not all utility computing vendors share Sun’s optimism for a public grid

“While we can’t comment broadly, HP believes that customers are not ready
to buy generic computing in this fashion,” HP spokesperson Dayna Fried told

“HP has delivered services like this in custom engagements,” Fried
explained. “For example, the HP Utility Rendering Service helped DreamWorks
achieve enough compute power to produce Shrek 2. This service delivered
computing power as a utility — power that could be ramped up or down when
DreamWorks needed it, according to fluctuating production demands.”

Sun’s MacRunnels, though, considers the public grid utility where computing needs to go and hopes that the market will follow. She said the
public utility will enable developers of all sizes to take advantage of
massive computing power without the need to deal with extensive complexity.

“If you look at electrical utilities and communications, the vendors carry
the burden of the technical complexity and the customers just get to plug in
and use it,” MacRunnels said.

“That’s what’s under way and where Sun is
leading, but we hope that competitors embrace this because in order to drive
a new standard, we want to see that our competitors will actually join in

“I do believe that it will absolutely become a competitive marketplace.”

Sun’s initial rollout of the public utility will be available only
in the U.S. due to export control issues, because, as MacRunnels put it, the amount of CPUs could be considered as having access to a weapon. But, she continued, there’s nothing technically to prevent them from deploying globally.

She already considers Sun’s commercial compute utility offering,
which has been targeted to its traditional customers, to be a success.

“On the public utility we are tapping into a whole new customer for Sun — someone that we’ve never really had access to before. And that’s really
thrilling for us.”

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