Sun Microsystems believes it is at the forefront of the developing utility-computing evolution, with its nascent pay-per-use programs gaining momentum and a plan to double its regional grid-computing-center network in the coming year.
Since announcing in September its initiative to deliver utility computing access at a rate of $1 per CPU per hour, Sun has talked with more than a dozen large customers who are engaging in "multi-thousand CPU, multiyear contracts," says Jonathan Schwartz, president and chief operating officer of Sun.
Those customers include a movie studio, an oil and gas company, and a financial institution, which represent "the leading lights of the industry," he says.
Ultimately, the success of Sun's utility effort will be gauged on engagements with numerous smaller companies for small increments of CPUs. Sun currently has five regional grid-computing centers from which it offers its utility service, and Schwartz says the company is likely to add an additional five centers in the next year in major metropolitan centers.
Schwartz believes Sun's utility-computing effort is more attuned to mainstream market usage than other efforts such as IBM's per-use offering of its high-end Blue Gene computer, which was announced earlier this month. "IBM is probably the only reasonable competitor out there, but when you ask them how much their grid costs, they say it depends," he says. "To us, that is the antithesis of a utility."
Currently, many businesses are attempting to build out internal grid networks, but Schwartz says even those companies admit they'll be hard pressed to create a grid capable of delivering computing at $1 per CPU, which will eventually drive out internal grids. "We've set a price by design to be as transparent as possible at $1 an hour," he says.
Schwartz believes Sun's utility-computing effort will be aided by its push to release its Solaris operating system and Java Enterprise System as open source. In contrast, IBM will have a custom environment surrounding its Blue Gene platform. "Blue Gene will never be a volume system, and if there is one lesson to be learned in all of enterprise computing, it's that volume always wins," he says.
Although some observers believe that emerging blade-server systems will be an important piece of utility-computing frameworks in the years ahead, potentially providing improvements in real estate, wiring, and cooling, Schwartz isn't as enthusiastic. "Is a blade infrastructure going to be a radical transformation of the marketplace? Frankly, I don't think so at all," he says. "In a grid environment, no one cares at which angle you're tipping your computers. I think in the data center you'll find customers are more focused on service levels per watt, per square foot, and per dollar. To a degree, some of the blade discussions are a bit of a distraction."