Sun Grid Open for Business

Sun President Jonathan Schwartz calls the grid-which anyone with a credit card and a Web browser can access-the world's first on-demand supercomputer.

Sun Microsystems public computing grid is finally up and running.

Though several months behind what company officials first predicted a year ago, the Sun Grid—a massive collection of Sun Fire systems in three data centers—will enable anyone with a credit card and Web browser to access the computing resources and run their workloads, all for $1 an hour. In his blog, Sun President and Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Schwartz called the grid, which opened March 22, the worlds first on-demand supercomputer.

"And by on demand, I mean accessible through your browser, with a credit card," Schwartz said. "This isnt yesterdays definition of on demand, involving custom financing contracts, prepositioned inventory and a sales rep in a crisp blue suit ready to negotiate. Nope, our definition is just like eBays: you bring a browser and a credit card, we offer the service. No fuss, no muss."

However, the Sun Grid is similar to other initiatives run by such competitors as IBM and Hewlett-Packard.

Sun, which for years has been a proponent of grid computing, last year launched the Sun Grid initiative. For the past year, Sun, of Santa Clara, Calif., has been running the commercial part of the grid, where larger enterprises could reserve space on the grid and then run their workloads. Aisling MacRunnels, senior director of utility computing at Sun, said some businesses had used millions of CPU hours.

In addition, Sun engineers also used the grid, which comprises systems running on Advanced Micro Devices Opteron processors and its own UltraSPARC chips—about 5,000 CPUs in all. Sun is planning to include servers running its own UltraSPARC T1 chip, which offers up to eight cores that each can run four instruction threads simultaneously.

Now anyone with a credit card, PayPal account and a browser can get access to the grid via the site MacRunnels said that customers will need a day to be processed, but then can load their applications onto the grid.

MacRunnels and other officials said some of the key obstacles to getting the public grid running were security and dealing with the multitenancy issue. However, those have been solved, they said.

The public grid currently is running in the United States only, though there are plans to expand it to include the United Kingdom and other regions in the future as well.

Sun also is working on a release of the grid that will include multiple APIs, which will enable wider use by customers, MacRunnels said. One of the key advantages would be enabling customers to have workloads running in their own data centers to automatically roll over to the Sun Grid if the in-house data centers run full, she said.

/zimages/6/28571.gifSun is trying to entice more developers and software makers to create applications for its Sun Grid initiative. Click here to read more.

Sun also is working on a storage component for the grid. Currently one is running in England, and it will come to the United States in the future, she said.

One of the challenges of the grid is convincing enterprises to run workloads on a hosted system, Schwartz said. Still, he predicts that over time customers will see that the grid not only makes financial sense, but also offers good security.

"[B]ehind the corporate firewall, the transformation toward multi-tenant grids has been slower," Schwartz wrote. "Frankly, its been tough to convince the largest enterprises that a public grid represents an attractive future. … But theres no denying theres a change occurring."

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