Sun Microsystems next week will launch the long-awaited public portion of its hosted grid computing service, enabling anyone to access massive amounts of computing power through their Web browser.
The $1-per-CPU-hour service was the cornerstone of the Sun Grid initiative when the Santa Clara, Calif., company announced it early last year.
Sun has been operating the commercial portion of the grid—what one official called the "lightweight" part of the project—since last year, but security and other concerns delayed the launching of the public access until now.
Portal access to the grid will open next week, though officials would not say which day. Up to now, large enterprises could contact Sun and reserve a portion of the grid for their use, according to Aisling MacRunnels, senior director of utility computing at Sun.
With the new public section launching, "anyone ... with Internet access will be able to access thousands of CPUs," MacRunnels said.
Users can sign up, and once processed—which can take up to a day—they can put their applications onto the grid and run their workloads.
Once finished, they can pay via a PayPal account and remove their applications. Sun will then clear out the portion of the grid those customers had used and make it ready for the next user.
"Its the ultimate democratization of computing," MacRunnels said. Sun is kicking off the public portion of the grid in the United States initially, and to other parts of the world later, starting with England in about six months, she said.
The Sun Grid currently offers about 7,000 CPUs spread across three data centers, running on Sun Fire servers powered by Advanced Micro Devices Opteron chips.
The company will supplement those later this year with servers running its UltraSPARC T1 processors—formerly codenamed "Niagara"—which offer up to eight cores per chip, with each core capable of running four instruction threads simultaneously.
This is the latest step in Suns grid computing push, which started in 2000 when the company introduced a variable cost infrastructure. The commercial grid—which offers on-demand compute resources similar to other efforts by such competitors as Hewlett-Packard and IBM—was the next step, followed by the portal access model.
In addition, Sun last year unveiled a partner and customer program designed to grow the ecosystem around the Sun Grid, and launched the Grid Rack System, a preconfigured grid system that could be delivered to a customer on-site to give them their first taste of grid computing.
Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT Research, said Suns biggest challenge will be convincing potential customers that using a hosted IT infrastructure makes sense.
Enterprises can save money by not having to buy or staff new systems, and dont have to worry about the associated environmental costs—such as power and cooling—that come with servers.
The challenge comes in convincing conservative business executives to try a new model, said King, in Hayward, Calif.
In addition, in the years since Sun started talking about the grid, compliance has become a higher priority, which further makes companies wary about putting their data next to someone elses on a share infrastructure, he said, adding that most vendors have worked out that issue.
"So using a hosted service like this, you can make a good financial argument for that," he said. However, "I think the majority of businesses are more comfortable keeping control over it … Its not a technology issue as much as a cultural issue."
MacRunnels said Sun has a large number of customers that want access to the grid, though she declined to say how many. The delays in launching the public grid have given Sun the advantage of being able to test the technology in a more controlled environment with the commercial grid, she said.
King said the success of the grid project is important to Sun, not only for prestige purposes but given the companys finances.
"The company needs revenue wherever it can get them, so having a healthy hosting service … would be great," he said.