Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/03/18/sun_cloud_platform/

Sun pitches new cloud as 'Open Platform'

Like Linux, for grids

By Timothy Prickett Morgan

Posted in Servers, 18th March 2009 21:00 GMT

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.

The Demo

Tucker demoed the Sun Cloud, and this is the first time we have seen the graphical cloud creation tool that Sun got when it acquired Belgian data center management tool maker Q-Layer in early January. As we explained earlier today, the Sun Cloud has a Compute Service, which will be comprised of a mix of Sparc T, Xeon, and Opteron blades servers running OpenSolaris and the xVM interpretation of the Xen hypervisor.

Xen will allow Windows or Linux as well as Solaris to be run on the x64-based blades, while OpenSolaris will run in a virtualized manner on the Sparc-based blades, presumably using logical domain (LDom) partitioning. The Storage Service will run on Sun's "Amber Road" storage arrays (which are in turn Solaris servers with the Zettabyte File System and a whole lot of disk drives) and will support the file-level WebDAV protocol as well as an object-based storage protocol that is compatible with Amazon's S3 storage service.

The Q-Layer software, which Sun is calling the Virtual Data Center, is what does the provisioning of servers from a library of possible virtual machine stacks. Tucker demonstrated how easy it was to start with a public network IP address and plug in Web servers supporting a MediaWiki application, complete with load balancers and two back-end database servers, using the tool. He then proved that they were live on the Sun Cloud by opening up a Web browser and surfing to each Web server by forcing refreshes.

The underpinning of the Open Cloud Platform that Sun will be pitching to developers is a set of cloud APIs, the creation of which is focused under Project Kenai and which has been released under a Community Commons open source license. Sun wants lots of feedback on the APIs and wants these APIs to become a standard too, hence the open license. These APIs describes how virtual elements in a cloud are created, started, stopped, and hibernated using HTTP commands such as GET, PUT, and POST.

The upshot is that these APIs will allow programmatic access to virtual infrastructure from Java, PHP, Python, and Ruby and that means system admins can script how virtual resources are deployed. The APIs, as co-creator Tim Bray explains in his blog, are written in JavaScript Object Notation (JSON), not XML. The Q-Layer software is a graphical representation of what is going on down in the APIs, and you can moving virtual resources into the cloud with a click of a mouse using the dashboard or programmatically using the APIs from those four programming languages listed above. (PHP support is not yet available, but will be).

Rich Wolski, the director of the Eucalyptus project at the University of California at Santa Barbara, was trotted out to say that the project would be supporting Sun's cloud APIs in addition to the Amazon Web Services APIs that it already supports. The Eucalyptus project is trying to create a management framework for public clouds like Amazon's AWS and Sun's Cloud that can also be extended into private clouds that companies will surely build. As already reported, the Ubuntu distro of Linux is supporting the Eucalyptus framework and wants to position itself as the platform on which to build Amazon-compatible private clouds.

Tucker also demonstrated that OpenOffice and StarOffice will be tweaked to have two new commands in their drop down menus: Load from Cloud and Save to Cloud. The WebDAV support is going to be embedded right into the software so that if you have a Sun Cloud account, you can save files right to the cloud instead of your disk drive. You can sure bet that Sun wants to charge for that storage, and millions of people will probably want to back up to some cloud somewhere because, really, who trusts a laptop drive all that far?

Neither Douglas nor Tucker would talk about when the Sun Cloud would go commercial, but they reiterated that over the summer the company will have a controlled, private beta for the developer community. More details on that, and presumably pricing for the compute and storage services as well as the Q-Layer tools, will be announced at the CommunityOne West event in June. They were similarly not going to talk about pricing. "We are well aware of pricing in the market and we intend to be competitive," Douglas said. ®