Sun Grid to launch this week

After struggling to release public version of computing infrastructure, Sun says it's ironed out the wrinkles.

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Sun Microsystems plans to open its much-delayed public Sun Grid this week or next, letting people use PayPal to buy processing cycles, company president Jonathan Schwartz said.

The "on-demand supercomputer" will be housed at Network.com, Schwartz said Monday on his blog. It will let people in the United States use servers with either Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron or Sun UltraSparc processors. Sun will have 5,000 chips available for use at $1 per hour each when the service launches "later this week," he said.

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 their cachet. Ultimately, Sun believes most computing will happen on generic grid assemblies rather than in customized data centers. But it's been tough making the Sun Grid a reality.

Initially, the grid will be used for high-performance computing tasks such as pharmaceutical research or stock market analysis, but the company expects mainstream use eventually.

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

Security, technology and regulatory issues have held the company back. 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 an internal challenge to bring down the grid uncovered "several vulnerabilities."

IBM and Hewlett-Packard already offer services by which customers can rent processing power. Sun wants to distinguish itself by making sign-up and payment easy. It won't be instant gratification, though; it will still take a few hours to sign up for an account and a few hours to get computing power after it's requested, Schwartz said.

The Sun Grid won't be available to users outside the United States because of export control laws, but the company plans global availability later.