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Cloud computing on the horizon

Sun Microsystems CTO Greg Papadopoulos predicts that by the beginning of 2010 the majority of systems sold would be for Web, high-performance computing, and software-as-a-service applications.

SAN FRANCISCO--Speaking at the Structure 08 conference here, Sun Microsystems CTO Greg Papadopoulos predicted that by the beginning of 2010 the majority of systems sold would be for Web, high performance computing and software-as-a-service applications. "We are going through this phase change in computing in a big way," he said. He made a similar prediction last year.

Papadopoulos also advocated a free market in which all interfaces and formats are based on open standards; customers own their data, relationships, and metadata; and customers can extract, synchronize or purge their data unilaterally. This echoes recent efforts to promote openness and data portability.

Papadopoulos acknowledged that the nirvana of every customer or user in charge of their own data that lives in the cloud has challenges. Today, users cede control of their data to service providers like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, and others. It's not as easy for users to manage and move their data as it should be, which means users are generally stuck with the user experience and monetization schemes of the host sites. "It's proprietary systems all over again," Papadopoulos said. Over the last several years Sun has differentiated itself proprietary vendors, focusing on free open-source software and open standards.

Sun CTO Greg Papadopoulos Dan Farber

Further out into the future, Papadopoulos expects that the technology infrastructure industry will be similar to the energy industry. In past presentations, he has called this transition the Red Shift.

Papadopoulos has predicted a "neutron star collapse of data centers," meaning at some juncture it won't make sense for businesses to build their own data centers. Instead they will contract for computing resources from hosting providers who bring "brutal efficiency" for utilization, power, security, service levels, and idea-to-deploy time.

There will be a grid of a half dozen very large cloud infrastructure providers and a hundred or so regional providers, Papadopoulos said. It will also look more like the banking world, he continued, with customers willing to trust the service providers with their private data as they do banks with their money. It's a question of when, not if, this scenario will occur.

Papadopoulos also laid out a map (see below) of the current universe of cloud computing in terms of increasing virtualization and consolidation across various categories: processor, operating system, language, and application services. Over time, the categories will fill out more especially as more languages and applications services or platforms rise up. Papadopoulos pointed to two Sun projects, Dark Star and Project Caroline. Dark Star is about software infrastructure designed to simplify the creation massively scalable online games, virtual worlds and social networking applications. Project Caroline is a hosting platform for developing and delivering Internet-based services. It's not clear why the Sun research projects are positioned at the far right on the chart, and players such as Google, Joyent, and Rackable are missing.

Higher up in stack developers have more targets and more freedom to innovate below it, Papadopoulos said. Sun

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