Sun's local grid may debut this year

Despite uncertainty over whether a commercial utility computing service will be established here, Sun Microsystems is assessing the market opportunities and could switch on a local grid by year's end.

Sun Microsystems' advanced services manager Ken Cross said the company is working to establish a local grid by reviewing the market size and opportunities before committing to "this significant investment". A decision is expected by June.

"If it proceeds the service will probably be split over multiple locations for reasons of redundancy and to satisfy user needs," Cross said. "We expect that if the project proceeds there will be major grid sites in Sydney and Melbourne, with a smaller grid in Perth for local processing and job submission to the two larger sites."

The uncertainty surrounding the possibility of a local Sun grid comes in the wake of an announcement by the company that the US launch, earmarked for Q1, will be delayed until July this year.

Despite this, Cross said the US delay is not impacting local plans and the original, end-of-calendar-year target hasn't changed assuming that it goes ahead here.

Cross could not indicate what the cost of the service is likely to be, only to say it will likely be in line with the US costs of $1 per CPU-hour for processing and $1 per GB a month for storage.

"We are working with companies from both [financial services and energy] industries so we can understand their requirements such that the sites and services offered will reflect the needs and requirements of the users," he said. "For customers running efficient IT systems the utility model might not be attractive, but it is for customers with peaks and troughs in their workload."

Cross said another advantage of a utility model over an in-house enterprise grid is that Sun would take away the challenges of managing and updating it. If approved, a pilot grid consisting of 256 dual-processor systems and "multiple terabytes" of storage will go ahead.

Dr Gary Egan, Melbourne University's Howard Florey Institute senior researcher, welcomed the potential of a local grid service as he is "looking for grid access".

"The pay-as-you-go model is plausible when the service you get becomes clearer," Egan said. "When our software is operating we can assess the commercial value to us to have research data processed more quickly."

Egan, who is at the forefront of grid computing research, is using Sun's grid software to complete the middleware layer which is "not as mature" as it needs to be.

"Instead of managing a cluster, we could tap into a grid which might be a cost-effective solution," he said. "We have links with pharmaceutical companies for clinical trials. If we can get them through faster it's money in the bank."