Sun Microsystems Inc. Wednesday announced its largest grid-computing sale to date—an agreement with high-performance computing service provider Virtual Compute Corp. to use more than 1 million hours of CPUs on the Sun Grid Compute Utility during the next several months.
VCC client Paradigm Geotechnology, in turn, will use the Sun computing power to supplement its own resources and gain access to thousands of CPU hours as needed.
Houston-based Paradigm makes high-end 3-D geophysical imaging systems used to help oil and gas companies identify places to drill for oil.
Grid computing is the application of the resources of many computers within a network to a single problem at the same time.
Typically, this consolidated power is used to solve a scientific or technical problem that requires a great number of computer processing cycles or access to large amounts of data.
Paradigms imaging system uses terabytes of data to render graphical depictions of the Earths crust and its makeup, so that scientists can determine the likely location of oil deposits.
This new deployment on the Sun Grid is based on Sun Fire V20z servers and powered by 64-bit Advanced Micro Devices Inc. Opteron processor-based systems, Sun said.
The Sun-VCC deal is Suns first major grid-computing win—also the first involving the oil and gas industry—under the Santa Clara, Calif., companys new pay-per-use deployment model.
Last Feb. 1, the company announced that it was offering grid computing capacity at a flat fee of $1 per CPU per hour and providing a gigabyte of storage capacity for $1 per month.
For about three years prior to Feb. 1, 2005, Sun offered grid computing resources on an individually tailored pricing basis.
"With Sun, we now have the muscle to provide our customers in the oil and gas industry with what they need to get the job done," VCC Chief Executive Officer Ed Hawes told Ziff Davis Internet. "Sun is providing all the heavy lifting with their utility computing resources. We think we have opened the doors to a new era of utility computing that will usher in a fundamental change in how our customers in all industries manage their datacenters."
For many companies and organizations, grid computing—also known as on-demand or utility computing—provides a cheaper alternative to having to buy and build systems for projects.
Sun, along with Oracle Corp., IBM, Hewlett-Packard Co. and other major IT infrastructure providers, has been developing and marketing the grid computing model—which also includes hardware, software and services as needed—for about five years, but sales generally have been few and far between. The grid computing sector often has been the target of criticism from columnists, bloggers and analysts as being more hype than actual business.
Why is grid computing taking so long to get a foothold in the corporate apparatus?
"The idea of buying grid capacity as a service is a relatively new idea," analyst Robin Bloor told Ziff Davis Internet via e-mail.
"Attractive it may be, but also it is new. In all probability, the reason it took so long is a reflection of the actual level of demand coupled with the fact that this is a new way of paying for computer power. This can be viewed as a pioneer purchase. There is no indication yet that this is a big market."
Bloor said the Sun-VCC-Paradigm deal is "a little early to talk about as being significant. One swallow does not make a summer. I didnt notice any chasms being crossed."
This does bode well for Sun, he said.
"It is certain that Sun and other vendors (HP, IBM) have a pipeline of sales," Bloor said. "There will almost certainly be other sales, and the news of this deal will stir the market. On its own I doubt if it will stimulate take-up of grid. However, the need for flexible access to computer resource is real."
Early on, the concept of grid and utility computing had traction in the financial and educational vertical markets, but following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, enterprises that were exploring the idea of switching to hosted services like grids and ASPs (application service providers) backed off on the investments when the general economy stagnated.
Sun Senior Director of Utility Computing Aisling MacRunnels told Ziff Davis Internet Wednesday that the company has "thousands" of retail customers using the $1-per-CPU hour. This includes Sun employees, she added.
The retail rate, which went into effect this fall, is $1/CPU-hr, with a click-through license and a 4-hour minimum usage requirement, MacRunnels said.
"Basically, anybody with a credit card can have access to this," she said.
Hawes said that oil and gas companies have to move quickly once they find an area that might be rich in oil, so that a competitor doesnt beat them to it.
"The competition is fierce, and the stakes are high," he said. "Sun was able to have our systems configured and ready to go about five days after we turned in the request. That to us was awesome."
Sun also was able to do some performance optimization tweaking to the customers applications, within the time frame needed, Hawes added.
"This major Sun Grid deal with VCC underscores the growing demand for flexible compute resources as a service to customers in a wide of range of industries, from financial services to oil and gas companies," said Stuart Wells, Suns executive vice president of utility computing. "VCCs deployment on Sun Grid marks a turning point in the computing resource-strapped energy industry."