Sun lures partners to Grid for launch

On-demand service gets endorsement from Oracle. But don't use it for weapons of mass destruction.

Sun Microsystems launched its much-hyped, much-delayed Sun Grid on Tuesday, announcing several customers and underlining a significant endorsement from Oracle.

As expected, U.S. residents may use PayPal to employ Sun Grid server processors for $1 per processor per hour. Sun hopes the on-demand service, available at Network.com, will be a foundation for any number of computing services and ultimately will replace customized data centers, though the idea has its detractors.

Two companies offer services based on the Sun Grid: CDO2, which lets clients run financial simulations such as risk analysis, and Virtual Compute, which lets oil and gas industry clients perform computing tasks. In addition, Callidus Software, which sells programs for managing corporate financial incentives, will use the Sun Grid for its "software as a service" offering.

A direct customer is Applied BioSystems, which uses Sun Grid for genomic analysis, Sun said.

Oracle, a massive power in business software, offered a significant, if open-ended, endorsement: "Oracle is working closely with Sun to help ensure that Oracle's software and On Demand offerings are optimized for the Sun Grid," Juergen Rottler, the executive vice president of Oracle On Demand, said in a statement.

No nukes, please
The sign-up process for Sun Grid reveals details of the export regulation issues that have confined the service to U.S. use only, for now, and contributed to launch delays.

After agreeing to a 5,200-word list of terms and conditions for use, customers must sign a 3,500-word export control agreement that, among other things, requires certification that the Sun Grid won't be used for "developing, designing, manufacturing, constructing, testing or maintaining any nuclear explosive device, or components or subsystems of such a device." Similar prohibitions are laid out for work involving chemical and biological weapons, nuclear submarine propulsion systems, plutonium fabrication and ballistic missiles.

And as Sun President Jonathan Schwartz warned in his blog Monday, Sun Grid gratification isn't instant. "You will be notified via e-mail within two business days with regards to the status of your request," Sun tells those who sign up.

When an account is approved, processors--either Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron or Sun's UltraSparc--are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Sun has 5,000 processors on hand. Support is via e-mail for 12 hours on business days. Customers get 10GB of storage space.

Sun offered a sample service using Cepstral software that translates text into a computer voice MP3 audio file, but the application didn't work on Wednesday morning: "We're Sorry! An error has prevented us from processing your request: This Sample Application is currently off-line for maintenance. Please try again later."

The Sun Grid is one of several visionary ideas that the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company hopes will restore status and revenue that tapered away after the dot-com bubble burst and its own hardware and software lost much of its cachet.

Sun has announced its Sun Grid on multiple occasions--including once in February 2005, when Schwartz proclaimed on his blog, "We did it! The grid is live!"--but has had a hard time making it available widely.

In February, Sun Chief Technology Officer Greg Papadopolous said Sun was working on its "third architectural revision" of Sun Grid. And in his blog, Schwartz said that an internal challenge to bring down the grid uncovered "several vulnerabilities."

IBM, which has offered supercomputing-on-demand services for two years, disparaged Sun's service as too lightweight for serious customers.

"Thirteen months past their original promise of delivering the Sun Grid, Sun continues to trivialize mission-critical issues such as liability, confidentiality and security," David Gelardi, IBM's vice president of deep computing, said in a statement.

The Sun Grid is scheduled to be available in the United Kingdom within six months, Sun said.

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