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Sun pitches new cloud as 'Open Platform'

Like Linux, for grids

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As part of its roll-out of the Sun Cloud this morning at the CommunityOne East developer event in New York, the executives in charge of the developer community and cloud efforts at Sun Microsystems provided a little more detail on how it will be promoting not only its own public cloud, but APIs and management tools that will allow some standardization across clouds.

Dave Douglas - who was tapped to be senior vice president of cloud computing in addition to his existing duties as chief sustainability officer at Sun in the restructuring announced last November - has control of both the cloud effort and Sun's developer platforms. So, the CommunityOne East event was very much his show today. While Douglas and the chief technology officer for clouds at Sun, Lew Tucker (who built the Force cloud infrastructure at Salesforce.com), didn't add a lot of detail about the Sun Cloud public cloud that Sun rolled out today, they did explain why Sun is focused on developers, who can fill in some gaps in the Sun Cloud.

"We have done other things before, but this is still very early," Douglas said, alluding to Sun Grid and Network.com, the two prior cloudish efforts from Sun. "If you believe that there will be many, many clouds, then who is attracting developers and students will be a leading indicator for future success."

In short, Sun is playing to one of its relative strengths when it focuses on developers, trying to recreate the surge that took Sun from being an obscure provider of workstations for Wall Street to a key server provider and open systems thinker for academia and thence a serious player in enterprise infrastructure. Sun is but one in a long line of examples of obscure tech moving from niche to academia to widespread adoption, and you can't really blame Sun for trying this play yet again. (It worked for Linux marvelously, but it wasn't at all necessary for Windows, which jumped from consumer and corporate desktops into the data center).

If you want developers to get behind a technology, there are a few things you have to do, according to Douglas. "For this to take off," he said, referring to cloud computing in general, "there has to be a sense of openness and compatibility." And Douglas is absolutely right. Not being open is what killed off most proprietary minicomputers as various Unixes took hold in the data center, and the mainframe business is about a quarter of what it used to be for all IBM's talk thanks to the open systems revolution that Sun helped instigate.

And to that end, what makes clouds different from utility computing or grid computing, at least as far as developers are concerned, is the following: the ability to do self-service provisioning of compute, storage, and network infrastructure; quick scaling up and down of capacity as workloads dictate; pay per use pricing; and freedom of choice to run applications on any public, private, or hybrid cloud that they choose.

This, in a nutshell, is what Sun is trying to build as it creates what it is calling the Open Cloud Platform, of which the first instantiation is its own Sun Cloud, running at the SuperNAP data center in Las Vegas owned by Switch Communications.

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