Sunrise on launch of ‘world’s first on demand supercomputer’

Sun is hoping to have its day in the, well, sun, later this week with the launch of the first physical iteration of its slogan: ‘The Network is the Computer.’

Call it what you will – version 1.0 of Web 2.0 – Sun’s launch of ‘the world’s first on demand supercomputer’ is being billed by Sun’s COO and President Jonathan Schwartz as nothing less than historic.

While the likes of Microsoft, Google et al are hastily putting together online application services, Sun’s Sun Grid Compute Utility puts computing power itself online.

Schwartz writes in his blog: ‘By on demand, I mean accessible through your browser, with a credit card. This isn’t yesterday’s definition of On Demand, involving custom financing contracts, prepositioned inventory and a sales rep in a crisp blue suit ready to negotiate. Nope, our definition is just like eBay’s: you bring a browser and a credit card, we offer the service. No fuss, no muss. We believe the simplicity, accessibility and affordability of this service changes the face of computing for all organizations, large and small, public or private.’

On the grid’s website, the process is described as being as simple as ‘Upload your apps, Run your job, Get your data’ – and all at $1/cpu-hr.

However, one aspect that Schwartz doesn’t address is exactly how companies using the grid manage their software licensing costs when they farm out a computing task to several hundred sockets on the grid for a few hours.

In the past Schwartz has promised to ‘spare you the license cost’ for processing on the grid, but now that the grid is actually here there’s little more information than that.

Initially, the grid will only be available in the US, due to export controls: ie the US Government isn’t mad about ne-er-do-wells logging in to run nuclear fission simulations. But Schwartz insists the goal is to ‘be doing this globally’.

On the same basis, account provisioning won’t be instantaneous to the same degree as setting up on eBay. Schwartz says he is hoping account provisioning won’t exceed 24 hours. ‘We are focused on ease of provisioning, but we’re also conscious of the risk and security requirements,’ he writes, so there may be a certain amount of vetting to go through.

The grid will also open with a basic provisioning of processing oomph: a mix of AMD Opteron and UltraSparc chips, but fewer than 5,000 in total. ‘As demand emerges, we’ll be adding to that – without limitation,’ says Schwartz.

The first wave Web service APIs will also be made available later in the week, to allow applications to hook into the grid’s power. Schwartz describes it as a ‘foundation for what’s in store’.

Sun has been working towards grid computing for some time, and laid out its utility stance a few years ago.

Schwartz distinguishes Sun from its HP and IBM heavyweight rivals. He claims their ‘on-demand’ strategies are more akin to managing the specific computing and service demands of individual enterprise customers on a case by case basis. But you can’t then put all those instances together and call it a grid, claims Schwartz.

‘That’s not a business we’re in (nor one in which technology plays much of a role – it’s all about managing real estate and call centers, as far as we can tell). Grids are all about standardization and transparency – and building economies of scale,’ he writes.

Schartz claims that both large and small companies will find demand for grid computing. Finance houses, the oil and gas, and life science industries will be able to run simulations and complex computing tasks ad-hoc through the grid without having to build their own.

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