Sun Microsystems’ Sun Grid, which provides VARs with access to a 5,000-CPU supercomputer for $1 per CPU hour, has many technical hurdles to overcome in order to deploy custom applications, according to a CRN Test Center review.
Sun Grid, unveiled seven weeks ago, has been one of the most visible software-as-a-service initiatives from new Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz. In fact, Schwartz touts Sun Grid as the only public utility grid made available via the Internet. In contrast, IBM, which has promoted grid technology for years, has a grid offering made up of IBM hardware, software and services.
The Test Center analysis found the Sun Grid requires extensive man-hours and code rewriting to run custom applications. Engineers found that technical issues related to its custom-application-testing platform resulted in more than five man-hours spent trying to execute the program. In the end, the Test Center was unable to complete the project as originally planned, even with the help of Sun engineers.
At the same time, the Test Center analysis did find Sun Grid offers some promise for bringing high-end computing to small and midsize businesses, as well as an opportunity for solution providers to help customers cut down on infrastructure.
Rohit Valia, group product manager for Sun Grid, defended Sun’s technology. The work involved in making the app grid-ready, in turning it into software that was ready for parallel processing, was essential, he said. “If you take a simple application that is not yet parallelized and you want to do all of that in one step, there is no magic bullet.”
Sun will provide developers writing brand-new software technology with NetBeans, which will allow them to write fresh code capable of parallel processing right away.
Valia said “hundreds” of users have signed up to use Sun Grid.
The Test Center also reviewed a competing grid solution from Digipede, which has attracted considerable attention in technology circles, and found it performs with custom applications in a build-it-yourself grid offering.
Digipede, Oakland, Calif., was founded three years ago by economist and entrepreneur John Powers, who also launched Energy Interactive, an enterprise software vendor focused on the electricity industry. Digipede provides software that enables do-it-yourself grids, in which CPUs already on hand can be converted into multinode clusters.
The difference in ease of use in Sun Grid vs. Digipede was enormous. Because the Test Center designed an I/O-intensive test program to execute in parallel, the shell scripts required further development, so engineers did not complete the project originally intended to test the Sun Grid. The Sun job was completed after the Test Center contacted Sun’s engineers to help write scripts and compile the program.
Using the same test program with Digipede Team Edition, engineers compiled it using the DOS GNU compiler and were able to write the script in about a half-hour. The job wizard combines job creation with script development so developers need not to learn how to build scripts. Test Center engineers completed the Digipede job in less than one hour vs. five hours for Sun Grid.
At least one IT solution provider had similar issues with Sun Grid. Sean True, CTO of Inboxer, a VAR in Concord, Mass., that has been deploying Digipede’s offering for about a year, considered switching to Sun Grid but decided not to after examining the technical requirements to move applications.
“I didn’t even get to the point where I was sure I could do it technically,” he said. True said he was not swayed by Sun’s pricing model. “You can get a single CPU server for about $500. If it’s going to compute solid for 500 hours, it’s pretty much paid for itself.”
EDWARD F. MOLTZEN contributed to this story.