Sun Microsystems pulls plug on grid, enters cloud

Sun Microsystems announces cloud computing service but fails to distinguish the technology behind it from Sun Grid.

Sun Microsystems is pulling the plug on its grid utility service in favor of a new cloud computing offering, but few in the industry believe Sun has the chops to execute this move.

Amid reports this week that IBM is in talks to buy Sun, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based computer maker rolled out its cloud service provider plans. This summer, Sun customers will be able to build virtual server and storage instances over a standard browser that can run applications on Sun's Cloud, similar to Amazon's Web services offerings.

Sun says the service is aimed at developers, students and startups and uses Sun software – OpenSolaris, Java, MySQL and Open Storage. Sun's self-proclaimed cloud computing evangelist Russ Castronovo would not disclose pricing details, saying that will come out as summer nears.

Gordon Haff, the principal IT adviser at Illuminata Inc., said Sun's cloud computing service is noteworthy because "they're not this pure cloud player. They do have their own resources and capabilities to customize hardware and operating systems. Somebody like Amazon can work with partners, but Sun has those capabilities in-house."

But Haff said the real question isn't whether Sun's move is a good idea, but whether the company can execute on it.

"They were out in front of this market with Sun Grid, and that went through various owners in Sun," he said. "And despite claims that it was ready, it was ready, it never really was ready."

Noemi Greyzdorf, a research manager at IDC also questioned Sun's ability to execute. "It's an interesting story, but at what cost? And how much time will it take them to build out the data centers to offer this service?" she wondered. "Amazon already has that infrastructure." She asked how users would access the service and order products and what Sun was doing to secure each user's participation on its cloud.

Out with Sun Grid
Sun's cloud infrastructure plans are unclear. As with Sun Grid – under the marketing banner of Network.com – the company will run its cloud service through a hosting agreement with Switch Communications, at its SuperNAP data center in Las Vegas. Sun was unwilling to share details on this. "Amazon doesn't discuss its infrastructure," said Castronovo.

From a technology standpoint, Castronovo was unable to describe how the infrastructure behind the new service is any different from Sun Grid or why Sun couldn't expand the utility computing program to include more than just high-performance computing (HPC) applications, which is Sun Grid's niche.

"I think the idea is similar," Castronovo said. "I can't speak to the exact differences. The notion is similar, but it's different, because it's done within the cloud."

Haff expects Sun Cloud technology will have a lot more server virtualization involved than Sun Grid.

"Sun Grid was like a typical [HPC] grid today," he said. "Some grids use virtualization, but that is the exception. This is much more in the Amazon model where you have virtualized instances, presumably over various sizes."

While Sun Cloud comes into being, however, Sun Grid is being phased out. The service is no longer open to new users, and though Castronovo said existing users will be supported for "a good long while," he added that "the market is going to evolve and those people could explore something different." He wasn't able to name any Sun Grid customers.

Sun is not the only tech company that was beaten to the cloud computing punch by Amazon, which dominates the market. IBM and HP had utility computing technology years back – often called by other names such as Software as a Service. Some say cloud computing traces further back, to the mainframe, an idea that even Sun CTO Greg Papadopoulos acknowledged.

With the announcement today, Sun is stressing its open source credentials, in particular talking about making application programming interfaces (APIs) public under the Creative Commons License to help partners and users build clouds of their own.

"It will allow people to see what APIs we're offering and build on them," Castronovo said. "When a person utilizes a cloud service, they're using APIs to get those services." He said the Sun Open Cloud Platform brings together Java, MySQL, OpenSolaris and Open Storage together. Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) also offers OpenSolaris, Java and MySQL.

A key piece of technology that will enable Sun to build this service comes from its acquisition of Q-layer, a cloud computing management company, and how that will fit into Sun Cloud. Haff said that although Sun hasn't laid out all the details on Q-layer, it appears that the technology from the acquisition will enable better assembling of workflows as well as attaching multiple virtual machines together and building multi-instance applications.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Mark Fontecchio, News Writer.

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