Sun touts grids

Sun Microsystems officials are banking on grid computing as a new area that the company could come to dominate.

Speaking at the company's Network Computing '05 launch event in Washington, D.C., today, Scott McNealy, Sun chairman and chief executive officer, laid out his vision for the company. Computing power should be centralized and made available to users, as they need it, just as electrical power is, he said.

"You can't deliver water by digging a well in everybody's back yard," he said. "You want one central nuclear power plant, not a small one in everybody's garage."

To act on the grid strategy, Sun officials unveiled two new offerings. For users who want to rent computing power, Sun Connection it provides at a cost of $1 per processor hour. For those who want to set up their own grids within their organizations, the Sun Grid Rack System, starting at $77,000, allows fast deployment.

In the near future, "You're going to see a lot of services for the grid, some free, some for a fee," he said.

Company officials made several other announcements at the event, including the availability of subscription-based storage and two network management tools, the N1 System Manager and the N1 Service Provisioning System.

Sun has had some trouble finding its feet in recent years, as McNealy said in his presentation today. "We were the 'dot' in dot-com" during the late 1990s, he said. "Then we switched back to being the 'old' in old economy after the bubble burst."

After building a business selling workstations, Sun became known for its server technologies and then for Java, a software language widely used to write Web applets and business applications.

Grids have been pushed in recent years by several companies, including some, like Sun, with large enterprise IT businesses that have historically opposed the desktop-centric view most often associated with Microsoft. Sun's founding slogan was "The network is the computer," and it's part of an industry group called the Enterprise Grid Alliance.

Other members of the group include Oracle, Sun, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, NEC Computers, Network Appliance, Fujitsu, Siemens and EMC.

And other server vendors, most notably IBM, have been promoting the concept of selling computing power like a utility service.

With its new focus on grid computing, Sun is also renewing its push to expand its government market.

"This is where the largest and most complex enterprises are," said Larry Singer, vice president of the global information systems strategy office at Sun. "Not just in Washington, but governments worldwide."

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