Sun Unveils Cloud Computing Specifics, Outlines Partner Plans


Sun Microsystems on Wednesday unveiled its Sun Open Cloud Platform along with its compute and storage services and a set of open APIs to allow partners to develop for the cloud.

The move comes three weeks after server virtualization giant VMware unveiled its cloud computing initiative with technologies that help customers deal with multiple internal and external compute clouds in a heterogeneous fashion.

Sun originally discussed its cloud computing technology in December, and in January the company acquired Q-layer, a Belgium-based company whose technology automates the deployment and management of both public and private clouds.

Cloud computing is a way to dynamically combine server, storage, networking and other resources outside of a company's own traditional data center for such purposes as remote data storage or running Software-as-a-Service. A company can build an internal cloud, which allows those resources to be available for its own purposes, or can use external clouds, which are available over the Internet.

This week, however, Sun is talking about concrete steps it is taking to make cloud computing a reality, said Juan Carlos Soto, vice president of cloud computing marketing for the company.

Sun's plans call for technology to overcome the two primary obstacles to cloud computing, Soto said.

"Today, clouds are not perceived to be open or interoperable," he said. "Customers fear being locked in. Also, they require fairly heavy lifting to get into the cloud."

To make that happen, Sun has made its storage and server technologies available on its own cloud infrastructure in such a way that customers can quickly configure new services, Soto said.

Sun also is making available open APIs aimed at helping developers get to the cloud as quickly as possible, he said.

"We can show how quickly customers can assemble a Web application using our cloud," he said. "A customer can say, 'I need two application servers, a Web server and a proxy server,' and then can quickly configure it. Technology from Q-layer helps with this initiative."

Sun's storage services will support the WebDAV (Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning) protocol, which allows collaborative editing and managing of files on remote Web servers, Soto said.

"This makes it easy for existing applications to use storage in the cloud," he said. "For example, it lets Open Office use the cloud to store and recover files as if they were stored locally. Also, anyone building applications for Amazon S3 storage can also do so with our storage cloud."

Sun's cloud computing infrastructure will initially target developers and startups, Soto said. "The ability to use the cloud as a file store is very powerful, which is why we use WebDAV. For example, if a developer uses the cloud with Open Office but doesn't use WebDAV, it needs to build the file access part on its own."

Sun also is showing how it can help customers assemble relatively complex applications using its xVM virtualization technology, Soto said. "They may be in our cloud, in someone else's cloud, or in a data center," he said.

While VMware is not building its own cloud infrastructure, preferring instead to attempt to be the main supplier of technology that helps customers work with the clouds of their choice, Sun feels it is important for it to build its own cloud infrastructure, Soto said.

There already are many clouds available (such as Amazon S3) that provide the ability to do things such as Web applications, especially for smaller companies and startups, Soto said.

"But we'll be there for many other companies that, for security or high-performance computing, need cloud optimization," he said. "And other service companies need help with running their own clouds. Our experience is important to helping them do so."

Sun already has partners in its cloud ecosystem working with the vendor's technology.

RightScale, a Santa Barbara, Calif.-based developer of technology to automate the deployment and management of business-critical applications in the cloud, already works with the Amazon S3, GoGrid, FlexiScale and open-source Eucalyptus clouds.

Michael Crandell, CEO and founder of RightScale, said that the Sun Cloud was still new, but that it will be important because of Sun's data center and related capabilities.

"Sun has certain capabilities around the data center, and virtual servers in the cloud can be configured as a virtual data center," Crandell said. "Sun has also added functionality around networking that seems to be pushing into new ground. Also, Sun has a long history of providing top-notch IT offerings."

RightScale is also a partner of VMware's VCloud initiative, but has not yet had a chance to study that company's API, Crandell said.

Another partner to the Sun Cloud is Zmanda, the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based developer of open-source backup and recovery software based on the Amanda project.

Chander Kant, CEO and a founder of Zmanda, said his company's technology is already being used to do data backups and restores using Amazon S3, and is being made available to work with the Sun Cloud.

Zmanda is already working with several customers that also are Sun customers, making them the logical first targets for the Sun Cloud, Kant said.

"Enterprise customers are using a lot of Sun hardware and software," he said. "So the Sun branding is good for enterprise customers. While Amazon S3 is good for the Web crowd, for enterprises the Sun brand has cachet."

Sun has yet to detail to its solution providers how they can take advantage of the Sun Cloud, Soto said.

However, he said there will be plenty of opportunities for them, either to build their own clouds or help customers use the Sun Cloud. Partners can use the Sun cloud as a platform on which to build SaaS offerings. They also can help Sun take the Sun Cloud into certain verticals such as health care and government, he said.