Sun Stakes Future on Grid ComputingBy John Pallatto | Print
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Sun presses forward to become a dominant low-cost provider of grid computing services before IBM or Dell wakes up to the challenge.SANTA CLARA, Calif.Sun Microsystems Inc. senior executives hope to put Sun in a dominant position as a low-cost grid computing system provider before IBM or Dell Inc. are tempted to engage in a price war for a comparable set of services.
Sun's objective, the senior executives said, is to provide grid computing power to corporations, academic institutions and government agencies for specific data processing projects, offering a less costly substitute for buying and assembling the computing capacity themselves.
Grid computing promises to be the fourth important new wave of technology that the company has developed in its 24-year history, after workstations, application servers and Java Web services, noted Sun Chairman and CEO Scott McNealy. Sun is counting on grid computing to bring a long-awaited return to growth and prosperity.
These offerings include the Java Application Platform Suite, which provides tools and services to design and build SOA (service-oriented architecture) applications. The Java Web Infrastructure Suite provides security and access control to existing Web applications, or it can be used as a secure Web application deployment platform.
The Java Identity Management Suite provides tools to securely use and manage user identity information. The Sun Java Communications Suite enables dynamic access to applications and information stored anywhere on a corporate network.
The company is also licensing the Java Enterprise System Release 3 for a subscription rate of $140 per employee per year.
McNealy downplayed the possibility that IBM would choose to compete with his company at the same level. While he conceded that IBM is probably the only competing company that has all the technology components available to offer a competing grid computing offering, it would not be at the low flat rate Sun is offering, he said.
"Their pensions costs are probably greater than $1 per CPU" before they even start to provide such a service, McNealy said.
Sun President Jonathan Schwartz said it would be difficult and costly for Dell to assemble all the components for a grid system, including an operating system, platform integration stack, application layer and database engine. McNealy agreed, quipping, "A load balancer in front of your rack of Dell servers not a grid."
The goal for Sun is to market computing power in much the same way electric power utilities market their commodity. Electric power is a relatively cheap commodity, but building power generation turbines and the distribution grid is an expensive and time-consuming process, Schwartz said.
The grid service would give corporate business managers an inexpensive way to perform sophisticated data analysis and simulations that are beyond the capacity of their organizations' existing IT resources or can't be scheduled on a timely basis, he said. This includes drug company protein or drug molecule modeling, Monte Carlo simulations for financial analysis, or oil and gas reservoir simulations for the oil exploration industry, Schwartz said.
IT managers wouldn't view Sun's grid service as unwelcome competition to their in-house computing resources any more than having access to multiple competing telephone services was unwelcome, Schwartz said. Corporate CIOs will embrace any new service that offers them new choices and options with the potential to save them money, he said.
Sun officials said their service will be profitable at the proposed fees because the company already has access to an inventory of servers and storage devices along with the operating system, applications and accessories necessary to start up the system.
McNealy suggested that Sun's grid will provide an automatic "burn-in" service for Sun servers and storage devices before they are shipped to customers.
But he stressed that while Sun is convinced the service will be profitable, "we want to move carefully into this market" rather than spend huge amounts of money simply to achieve "first mover advantage" in a market that fails to meet expectations. That is how a lot of companies came to grief in the dot-com boom and bust of the late 1990s, he noted.
Schwartz said Sun will also be counting on third-party partners, including system integrators, to help build the business.
One of those potential partners who attended Tuesday's grid computing introduction is DeepNines Inc., a Cupertino, Calif., provider of network edge security systems for intrusion prevention and detection.
DeepNines' interest would be as a security technology provider for grid computing installations, said Shannon McElyea, the company's vice president of business development. Companies that want to use grid computing for sophisticated data analysis are going to want to ensure that they are secure from Internet intrusions, McElyea said.
DeepNines also uses its technology for "forensic" intrusion analysis to learn how hackers penetrate systems, she said, adding that grid computing is potentially useful for such analysis.
Sun's grid service stands a good chance of winning favor with companies, she said, especially because Sun is offering the service on Solaris and Linux x86 platforms.
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