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Sun breaks through the clouds

Presque vu all over again

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Server maker Sun Microsystems will today launch its third assault into utility-style computing. And if you find yourself having a flashback of sorts, it isn't you and all that brown acid you took at Berkeley. It's just the way it is in the modern computer business.

Ask anyone in IT, except for maybe a few million CIOs and business owners who have their skeptical caps on, and they will tell you: Cloud computing is an idea whose time has come - again. And if at first you don't succeed, that doesn't mean it was a bad idea. It is just that someone else has done the idea better and you have to catch up so you can get some of the cash companies are going to be throwing around to build these computing and storage infrastructures called clouds. I think the old-fashioned term "utility" is better suited to what is really happening, but that is so 20th century, as is "grid," the term Sun preferred way back when the Sun Grid was launched in February 2005. Humans are so fickle. Don't blame Fate's finger.

Today, at the CommunityOne East developer conference Sun is hosting in New York, the company will announce the Sun Cloud, which Sun is billing as the "first public cloud service offering for developers, student, and startups," a cloud that will feature compute and storage services. I guess by first that means if you don't include Sun Grid or its kicker, Network.com, which was aimed at developers and startups as far as I can remember as well as corporations looking to offload some Solaris work to Linux or Solaris machines (that was the Sun Grid) and then only Solaris (that was Network.com).

Whatever. The point now, according to Juan Carlos Soto, vice president of cloud computing marketing at Sun, who has run its marketing program to chase startups as well as being chief technology officer for Sun's software business, is that Sun is going to operate a public cloud and will initially target developers and startups as the users for the platform. These are the kinds of customers who don't have big capital budgets and would no doubt prefer to rent compute and storage capacity than own gear and pay upfront for it.

This time around, according to Soto, Sun is building a public cloud that will support Linux, Windows, and Solaris - not just Solaris, which kind of limited its appeal - on a mix of Sparc and x64 iron. The cloud will be built using blade servers, which means Niagara processors on Sparc blades and both Xeon and Opteron processors on x64 blades. Because the initial targets are developers and startups, Solaris 10 is not going to be available out of the chute on the clouds, but the OpenSolaris development distro will be on both Sparc and x64 chips.

Several flavors of Linux and Windows will also be available on the x64 iron. To virtualize this server iron, Sun will be using its own xVM hypervisor tools, which of course includes Sun's implementation of the open source Xen hypervisor on x64 machines and logical domains (LDoms) on the Niagara iron. Both x64 and Sparc versions of the Solaris operating system can also support Solaris containers, which is Sun's riff on virtual private servers.

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