Sun flips switch on new grid products

Sun Microsystems has expanded on its plan to offer grid-like computing resources at the rate of US$1 per CPU per hour, saying that it plans to offer a complete line of Sun Grid products, including storage at the rate of US$1 per gigabyte per month. It will also offer grid-based desktop and developer products in the year ahead.

Speaking to an audience of press and analysts on Tuesday at the company's Santa Clara, California, headquarters, Sun President and Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Schwartz introduced the new products by literally flipping a giant switch and pronounced, "This is the unveiling of the Sun Grid."

The move toward grid computing will involve not just a shift in technologies but also a shift in attitudes, as companies begin to pay for usage of computers rather than for computers themselves. It is, however, a move that consumers -- who are comfortable having Web sites like Google perform computational tasks for them -- have already made, Schwartz said.

"Consumers have already gotten there," he said. "They're already using somebody else's infrastructure. The laggards in the industry are the enterprise (users)."

If enterprises have been slow to adopt Sun's utility computing concept it is not for lack of exposure. Sun has been pitching the concept since the mid 1990s, when executives referred to it as the "Web tone," playing on the idea of a telephone dial tone.

But even though the metaphorical grid switch was flipped on Tuesday, most customers will have to wait for months until they can actually try out Sun's new grid products.

Sun had initially expected to offer it's US$1 per CPU program within the first three months of 2005, but it is currently available only in limited trials, with general availability planned for May. Within the next few weeks, Sun will have six regional centers in operation where the grid products can be purchased, said Aisling MacRunnels, senior director of utility computing with Sun.

The centers, some of which are already being used by six unnamed pilot testers, will offer customers access to UltraSparc or Opteron systems. Some of them will be operated by Sun and others by Sun partners, MacRunnels said. Sun will either lease facilities or work with partners to expand its grid capacity. "We're not going to be building out new buildings for our data centers," she said.

The upcoming grid desktop products, which are expected in mid-2005, will be used by Internet service providers looking to provide inexpensive, easy-to-use clients to their subscribers, MacRunnels said. A grid product for developers is also planned for the same timeframe, she said.

Schwartz hinted that Sun's computing resources might one day be exchanged in much the same way that commodities like oil or electricity are traded today. "Wouldn't it be interesting if some of the more far-sited exchanges began thinking about creating a computing exchange," he said.

"So, stay tuned for Thursday when some very leading organizations, along with Sun, will be announcing a very interesting trend," Schwartz said, referring to an announcement his company's grid group plans to make later this week.

Also on Tuesday, Sun introduced a new line of Java System software suites that the company says are designed to serve the needs of smaller customers better than its monolithic Java Enterprise System. Available on an annual subscription rate of $50 per employee, the suites are designed for a variety of IT tasks, including identity management, system availability and infrastructure and communications.

Sun also announced the latest release of the Java Enterprise System. Version 3.0 will include new software like the Java System Identity Manager, Sun Java System Portal Access and N1 Grid Service Provisioning System. Pricing for the product will jump from $100 to $140 per employee per year as of April 1.

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