The Sun Grid has, at long last, officially arrived. You can now head over to Network.com and buy computing power with a credit card – at a buck per CPU per hour. The grid currently encompasses 5,000 computers, which Sun’s Aisling MacRunnels calls “a conservative start.”
In a post on his blog earlier this week, Sun’s president, Jonathan Schwartz, said that the Sun Grid “represents not only the future of product development at Sun, but … the future of computing”:
This isn’t yesterday’s definition of On Demand, involving custom financing contracts, prepositioned inventory and a sales rep in a crisp blue suit ready to negotiate. Nope, our definition is just like eBay’s: you bring a browser and a credit card, we offer the service. No fuss, no muss. We believe the simplicity, accessibility and affordability of this service changes the face of computing for all organizations, large and small, public or private.
He’s getting a little ahead of himself there – he later admits that “it’s been tough to convince the largest enterprises that a public grid represents an attractive future” – but so what? Traditional corporate IT departments and the vast IT industry that serves them have a vested interest in propping up the old private-data-center model. It underwrites their existence. The shift from a private-supply model to a utility model will require a tricky balancing act between expanding capacity and attracting demand; the key to success is to achieve ever greater scale economies while also keeping your capacity utilization rates high. As that happens, you can push your costs and prices down steadily until even big companies can no longer resist the economic advantages of moving to the grid.
In the meantime, though, the services offered by Sun and the many other utility-computing pioneers offer welcome new options to smart firms – and individuals – looking for more efficient and flexible ways to fulfill their IT requirements.
Some have asked how much money Sun can make from the Sun Grid. It’s a reasonable question, but I think it misses a larger point. I don’t think Sun’s ultimate goal is to run IT utilities but to supply the machinery to those that do. It’s the Thomas Edison strategy. In 1888, Edison built the world’s first electric utility – the Pearl Street Station in New York City. It was a marvel of engineering, but it took a couple of years before it turned a profit. Edison didn’t care, though. He built the station as a model for others. And his plan worked. Pearl Street set off a boom in the construction of similar generating plants around the country, some operated as public utilities, others operated privately within factories. Edison’s company – General Electric – made its money by outfitting those plants, not by running them.
My guess is that that’s what Sun is hoping to do as well.