Arguing that computing power is no different than electric power, Sun Microsystems said it will allow users to buy CPU cycles on an hourly basis, either directly from Sun or through an electronic trading market.
Corporate users in search of computing time, as well as speculators, will be able to bid on available CPU hours through Archipelago Holdings, a Chicago-based electronic stock exchange. For example, a company that buys 10,000 CPU hours through the new Sun Grid compute utility plan and then discovers that it needs just 8000 could sell the unused CPU hours on the exchange.
Trading won't begin for another three to six months, a Sun official said, adding that the company may also offer CPU cycles on the exchange.
Sun said it was in a proof of concept phase on Sun Grid with some users and has about 10,000 CPUs available at multiple data centres.
The base price for CPU time is $US1 per hour, and Sun is also offering storage at a monthly cost of $US1 per gigabyte.
But volume users would likely pay a lower rate, the company said.
Sun expects the early adopters of Sun Grid to be high-performance computing users in industries such as financial services, oil and gas exploration, and the life sciences.
Sun's president and chief operating officer, Jonathan Schwartz, , said at the company's quarterly product rollout that large software development organisations also may find Sun Grid appealing.
The new approach would offer "standardised software infrastructure in a grid that all their developers can get access to worldwide, without that business having to maintain and operate the infrastructure", Schwartz said.
Other vendors, such as IBM, already offer pay-per-use utility computing. But Sun's fixed price and its marketplace approach illustrated the increasing commoditisation of IT, said Nicholas Carr, author of Does IT Matter? Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive Advantage. Carr said upward of 90 per cent of a company's IT spending went to basic infrastructure.
"That's a large percent of expenditures that, in fact, can move to a utility model," he said. "I think [Sun chairman and CEO] Scott McNealy has seen the future. The question now is, Have Scott McNealy's customers seen the future?"
IDC analyst, Christopher Willard, said the technical users that Sun sees as likely Sun Grid customers have an insatiable appetite for compute cycles. But they would have to be convinced that security was tight and that data could be processed swiftly on the grid.