Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Sun Microsystems Businesses

Lights On But No One Home At Sun Grid 232

Posted by Zonk
from the please-leave-a-message-after-the-tone dept.
cygnusx writes "The Register reveals that Sun's pay-for-use grid computing services hasn't picked up a single customer yet." From the article: "The missing customers prove quite shocking when you consider that utility computing users must agree to be named in marketing programs as part of their contract with Sun - a fact learned by The Register and confirmed by a Sun spokeswoman. More than one year since it first started hyping the 'pay-for-use grid computing services' Sun is still weeks away from presenting a customer to the public. The program has proved much tougher to sell that Sun ever imagined."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Lights On But No One Home At Sun Grid

Comments Filter:
  • by Work Account (900793) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @11:32AM (#13889228) Journal
    You don't embark on a large project of ANY kind without at least securing a customer or two during the development process.

    Unless of course you're doing something with free software like Bittorrent where you don't need to money and everything else is cost neglible.
    • by eln (21727) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @11:44AM (#13889329) Homepage
      When you develop a project like this, you usually need to have enough money to run it profit-free (and even revenue-free) for some period of time so you don't need to have customers commit to buying vapor from you in order for the thing to work.

      That being said, however, you still need to have done some realistic market research. They should have at least contacted some friendly organizations (current customers mainly) to gauge actual interest in this thing beyond just the "that sounds cool" stage. The larger the financial risk involved in the project, the more market research needs to be conducted to mitigate that risk.

      It sounds almost like someone at Sun got a "really cool" idea, and everyone else at Sun thought it was super cool too, and no one bothered to ask anyone on the outside. Or if they did, they only paid attention to the ones that said it was cool and ignored the others. Or they only asked people if it was cool, and never asked them if they would buy it if it were available.

      It seems like Sun badly misread the market here, and I would assume someone in their marketing department is going to have a very bad day in the near future.
      • ...just when I was starting to miss the good'ol dot-com days...

        It's so nice to see that not every company has abandoned the idea of not having a revenue stream...

      • by SocietyoftheFist (316444) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @11:53AM (#13889395)
        Sun misread the market? Well duh, they've been doing that for a few years now. Sun seems to think an awful lot of themselves, and they do make a hell of a UNIX, but they don't drive the market, the market drives the market and they don't seem to realize it.
      • Sure you need to be able to take a loss on it for a while, but the original poster is correct that you need to have customers driving your requirements from day one.
        • "Sure you need to be able to take a loss on it for a while, but the original poster is correct that you need to have customers driving your requirements from day one."

          That's like saying that marketing push does not work. For generic products like this it is very unlikely that you get any customers buying it up front - it does not directly solve any problem. The problem here is that there is probably only a niche market. So you will have few people interested in it as well. That makes it hard to do a market
      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 27, 2005 @01:09PM (#13890095)
        I am a Sun Employee

        The Register has, to some extent, got it's self mixed up.

        The Grid Utility offering currently exists in 2 flavours which are still fairly fluid and are evolving to meet the markets needs.

        The first is a 'enter your credit card number on our secure website, submit your job and wait for the results' ('Retail Grid') which has been on limited release to early access customers for a while now. I think the reason there has been little publicity around which customers which use this part of the service is because this model isn't contract based. As I understand it, people signing up on the website do not necessarily have an agreement with Sun over publicity.

        The second model (the 'Commercial Grid') is a more tailored customer grid which does involve contracts and engineering development work whereby a customer is expected to return to the grid periodically to use 'their grid environment'.
        This service has been in use for many months and although this part of the service *was* slightly delayed, we currently have a significant number of customers and potential customers who are conducting testing and running jobs on the Commercial SunGrid.
        One thing we aren't suffering from is a lack of interest,

        Also, The Register seems to have forgotten about this: http://www.internetnews.com/ent-news/article.php/3 529891 [internetnews.com]

    • by Anonymous Coward
      You don't embark on a large project of ANY kind without at least securing a customer or two during the development process.

      True enough, but requiring your customers to add their name to your advertising campaign? that's silly.

      Suggest it, maybe even request it after proven performance, but don't require it.
    • Yep... but for all we know they did have customers lined up as it was being built. It wouldn't be the first time that a customer goes on and on and on about how great something will be and how much they're looking forward to it, then when it comes time to hand over the money they "reevaluate their priorities".

      Technology companies, especially those customising software for a client, know what this is like all too well.
  • Duh.. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by shbazjinkens (776313)
    Well, it isn't like computers are so prohibitively expensive that everyone is rushing to use this anyway.
    • Re:Duh.. (Score:3, Informative)

      by Guspaz (556486)
      Exactly. Do some math. I need a task done, and it is going to take 1 million CPU hours. Maybe I need to render a movie or something. I need it all done in 1 month.

      Well, I could pay Sun a million dollars for ~1400 CPUs for a month, or I could spend about a million dollars and get 350 dual-processor dual-core Opterons, use them for a month, and then sell them at pretty close to retail, bringing my costs to way under a million dollars.

      Or you can keep them and use them for more projects.

      Either way, Sun's soluti
      • Re:Duh.. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by elmegil (12001) * on Thursday October 27, 2005 @12:09PM (#13889511) Homepage Journal
        Sun's solution isn't really cheaper than a company doing it yourself.

        Because, after all, those machines are all self-maintaining and configuring.

      • You apparently don't understand the concept of grid computing and the expected customer base. Render farms are not, nor have they ever been, the anticpated customers for this service.

        Rather, large business needing to run monthly or quarterly Monte Carlo simulations, where you need massive power but only intermittenly, are the targeted customer type. In this case, is would be much cheaper and easier to use Sun's service than try to accomplish the same goals in-house.
      • Re:Duh.. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by LurkerXXX (667952) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @01:56PM (#13890536)
        Brilliant. You've gotten your bean counters to cut a check and 350 dual-core, dual-processor Opterons are in a truck outside. Where are you going to put those 350 machines? You need some space. Another expense. That's a lot of hardware. Even being up for a month they are going to use a lot of electricity. Hmm, damn, it's hot in the room now. 350 high end dual-cpu machines generate a lot of heat, so now you need to back to the bean counters again and ask for money to buy extra AC units and have the HVAC guys hook those into your building. It's not cheap, but still cheaper than Sun!

        Great. Now you need to buy a bunch of racks and equipment to connect those 350 machines togeather. Make that 350+, with that many going, your likely to experience some hardware failures. Your getting to be close personal friends with the bean counter. It's not cheaper, but it's gotta be cheaper than Sun.

        Now we're cooking with gas. Now you you just need to hire someone who knows what the hell they are doing to hook them up in a workable cluster, tweak the hell out of it to get anywhere decent performance... hmm. Gotta either hire a body or contract out. HR won't want a body for short term. Ah well, better hire the expensive contractor since this is all going to close down in a month. Hey Mr. Beancounter, I need a contractor that's worked with big clusters before to spend some time here. Ouch, one who is really good, available, and will do it well and quickly is not gonna be cheap. $$$. Oh, and hope they don't botch the job so that it takes hiring another contractor (and more time) to do it right...

        Ahh, finally. We've cranked through the job. Excellent Now we just have to go back to our friend Mr Beancounter and have him put 350+ odd machines on Ebay for us, plus the racks, switches, cables. Oh, and the big AC units... hmm, some of this might take quite a bit of time to sell to start recouping the money. Ah well, our beancounter wasn't going to be doing much else for the next few months. Or won't be now anyhow. Oh, plus we need to have someone tear down and box everything up. Probably for shipping to 1000 different places. Hmm, and the HVAC guys will have to come uninstall the extra AC units. But in a few months I'm sure we'll have back part of the costs of those machines!

        A bit of a hassle, no? A big expense. You might, just might come out cheaper than if you went with Sun. Then again, you could just cut a check to Sun, know the job will go into their queue, and you will probably have your data back from them in a few days.

        Sometimes it's just easier to pay someone who does that stuff for a living.

  • Secret Projects? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HTH NE1 (675604) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @11:33AM (#13889236)
    Does this mean that the only reason why someone would want such computing power is because they want to run projects they wouldn't want the public to know about?
    • by xtracto (837672) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @11:41AM (#13889307) Journal
      Does this mean that the only reason why someone would want such computing power is because they want to run projects they wouldn't want the public to know about?

      No.

      The basis of their project is that it would be better for companies to buy processing time than to build their own distributed processing network.

      Of course it is interesting to see who (in the real world) are those companies?. If we suppose they are some top-notch companies that use a lot of processing power (like stock market companies wanting to run their models) they may preffer (and they may already have) to run their own servers to protect their secrets.

      If they are not so big companies with not too much data then they may have enough power with a beowulf cluster of this-and-that.

      The main problem I see here is that any company willing to "buy" this power have to ponder at least this two issues:
      - They have to give their data and algorithms.
      - They have to relay on SUNs servers stability.

      Now, I think the theory behind this service is quite good and, I am thinking to use it as an application case for my risk management on multi agent systems thesis. But I hope when I start looking at the test cases there are at least some companies over there using it.
      • People don't buy a computer to run a processor.

        People want to run applications.

        The thing I'm not seeing in Sun's model is anything about the applications. Are they off-the-shelf? Who installs them? Who maintains them? What OS's are available? What security is available? How can I make sure that no one else sees my data?

        We've already been through with with the Application Service Providers (ASP's) and there are still a few out there making money by providing Internet access to their apps, running on their se
    • by monkeydo (173558) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @12:11PM (#13889524) Homepage
      The Register concludes that because Sun hasn't publicly announced any customer, that there aren't any. But, they based their conclusion on a false premise. Just because the standard agreement for this service contains a publicity clause, doesn't mean that it will remain in whatever contract is actually executed. If $customer came to Sun and said they wanted to use your service, only if they would strike the publicity clause from the contract, Sun may have been willing.
  • by erwin (8773) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @11:34AM (#13889244)
    I sent an email inquery to them right after it was announced, and no one ever contacted me. I even talked to someone at Sun (a different division), and still never heard from them....
    • Nothing like that even exists. A bored PR person sent out a fake Onion-style news release and the rest is, as they say, history.

      You were just one of the biters ;-)
    • It's probably because Sun screwed up the focus. Instead of selling to anyone who will buy, Sun usually sells to only large companies that wave MegaBucks around. What they don't realize is if they got a large number of "small" companies on the N1 system, they may be able to convince the big boys to jump on the bandwagon.

      Personally, I see this as being particularly helpful for rendering houses. The cost of running renderings is simply astounding, with many small companies having to purchase grid time from lar
  • by UR30 (603039) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @11:36AM (#13889262) Homepage
    Who would be willing to commit their resources to running applications on this system, which has no guarantee of existing after a couple of years? Selling computer platforms to customers, or providing a comprehensive ASP-style solution are more straightforward business models. And can Sun guarantee that data and applications will be secure on their grid system?
  • Ha ha (Score:2, Offtopic)

    by Moby Cock (771358)
    It really tickles my funny bone to see big companies make such big mistakes. I realise that this makes my a very cynical person but I can't help the way I feel. I like it even better when Hollywood makes giant flops. Remember that stupid Alexander the Great movie last year?

    Seriously though, why would someone subscribe to this service? Its not like computers are overly expensive anymorew and there is a fairly broad base of expertise to draw upon nowadays for system admin services.
    • Re:Ha ha (Score:4, Insightful)

      by LilGuy (150110) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @11:54AM (#13889406)
      Remember any of the retarded movies made last year? Or in the past 5 years for that matter?

      I don't. Until I go to the movie store and can't find anything worth watching in the New Releases (because 5 year old movies are still considered new releases half the time).

      Seems to me, big industries are much more error-prone than the little guys. They can afford to be.
    • Re:Ha ha (Score:4, Insightful)

      by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @12:00PM (#13889453) Homepage Journal

      Seriously though, why would someone subscribe to this service? Its not like computers are overly expensive anymorew and there is a fairly broad base of expertise to draw upon nowadays for system admin services.


      Ever manage a grid before? I have. Once you get beyond a few machines and start running enough jobs to fully utilize all that hardware, management becomes a non-trivial task.

      Some companies may want to utilize a grid, say for rendering, but they don't have the IT resources to manage such a system. Especially if their rendering needs aren't so great that they need a grid system full-time -- think small CGI studios or architectural firms that use visualization -- they won't be able to afford the IT resources to manage such a system, either.

      That's why there exist service bureaus that have large rendering farms available for hire. Only many of them charge much less than $1/cpu-hour.

      • Re:Ha ha (Score:3, Informative)

        by Lucractius (649116)
        while its possible to use this for rendering ill repeat again the words of others. Its not meant for people wanting to run rendering. Instead for people that need short term high volume proccessing at itermittent intervals.

        Say a small (but lucrative) investment firm with cash to spare but not enough to manage an IT project the size they need for the simulations they need about 25000 hours for every 3 months and that would be sitting idle the rest of the time.
        • Maybe that firm could devise a service wherin they rent out processor time on their grid during that idle time! It'd be great - people could just use what they need rather than investing in a complete grid that they wouldn't totally utilize themselves! Wait...
    • Seriously though, why would someone subscribe to this service? Its not like computers are overly expensive anymore...

      I think I said this last time this topic came.

      Essentially, you get to pay for the exact amount of compute power that you want. If you aggregate the cost of the hardware, maintainence, etc over the actual utilised cycles, you'll find it's probably much higher than Sun's offering, precisely because they have gambled on getting economies of scale.

      It seems, for the present anyway, that

    • by Surt (22457)
      You would subscribe to this if your small business needed a million cpu hours next week, and all you had was 100 computers.
    • It really tickles my funny bone to see big companies make such big mistakes. Like, remember that dumb move by Apple where they started offering a product called the "iPod"? Or when Microsoft was really stupid and decided to offer something called "Windows" despite the fact that DOS was doing just fine? And some stupid company called "AMD" is selling processors even though Intel should be good enough for anyone!

      Anyone remember that stupid movie "Star Wars" that came out a few years back? Can you believe that
      • In fact, you seem to be advocating caution. The same kind of caution that had the guy over at HP ask why anyone in the world would want a personal computer.

        I am advocating nothing. And I'll be blunt: I think its funny that some guy at HP thought the PC would be a bad idea.
  • Price too high? (Score:5, Informative)

    by GGardner (97375) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @11:39AM (#13889280)
    There was a lot of debate the last several times this was posted about Sun's $1/cpu-hour price, how TCO is a lot more than hardware cost, etc. Still, a google search reveals a bunch of other companies who lease out CPU farms (mainly intended for rendering), who charge less than $1/cpu-hour.
    • Charges by cpu hour is a bogus metric.

      $1 a CPU hour on a 486 33MHz is NOT a better deal than $5 for an hour on a P4 running at 3.2 GHz

      It might be good for billing but it is bad for comparisons.
    • For those of you too lazy to do the math, this comes out to $8,760/cpu/yr, or for a typical 2-way server, $17,520/yr. Over a typical 3-year lifecycle (YMMV), this is $52,560 in expense for a 2-CPU server. Of course, this includes administration of the service, such as backups, sysadmin, power, data center space, etc...

      Compare this to buying a 2-way Sun V240 [sun.com] at about $7,245 (pre-discount), and you have $45,315 worth of TCO cost-savings to justify to management over the same 3-year window to make this worth
      • Re:Price too high? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Surt (22457)
        Looking at it on a per cpu per year basis doesn't capture when this would be useful. Suppose you needed 1000 cpus for a week, but then your data analysis project would be done for the year. Better to buy yourself the 1000 cpus or to rent them?
      • yeah the price is probablly a bit on the high side. though you didn't account for the fact that your own machines are unlikely to be at full load doing usefull work 24/7.

        how much do places like specialist render farms charge by comparison
      • As others have said, this service isn't targeted at folks who use their CPUs 24/7. Those folks already have their own clusters. This is for folks who occassionally need massive computing. Your arguing numbers for entirely the wrong market. Know your market.
    • There was a lot of debate the last several times this was posted about Sun's $1/cpu-hour price, how TCO is a lot more than hardware cost, etc. Still, a google search reveals a bunch of other companies who lease out CPU farms (mainly intended for rendering), who charge less than $1/cpu-hour.

      You've also got to consider that Suns are slow, so its even more expensive. I'm not just saying this, I've run tests on everything from an UltraSparc2 @ 333Mhz to an UltraSPARC3 @ 1.2GHz. They are particularly slow in m
  • by jiushao (898575) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @11:41AM (#13889302)
    Not that suprising at this point, it is a new system, it tries to create a new market and it does so in the enterprise space. Things don't suddenly catch on when it comes to enterprise data service, Sun has to offer the service to get the talk going and in another few years we will really know if it turns out good or not. It is much too early to make any judgements about the feasability of the project.

    Personally I think the idea might work, but it might not in this incarnation. There seems to be a fair chance that Sun can claim to be ahead of its time again, which has in some ways been a while. Which is a good thing in itself, Sun has historically been a nice company to work with but has suffered from some stagnation for a number of years.

    • There were many "The engineers did it because it was cool and no one would buy it" comments. This might be the case, but Sun does have a marketing dept - and I'm sure that at least someone knew about it and did their homework.

      That said, it is obvious someone in the marketing dept didn't get it right, but at some point it comes down to luck.

      They are trying a new product in a new market space and it might fail - due to any number of reasons. The two that come to mind are: The customers don't know they need it
    • "Not that suprising at this point, it is a new system, it tries to create a new market and it does so in the enterprise space. Things don't suddenly catch on when it comes to enterprise data service, Sun has to offer the service to get the talk going and in another few years we will really know if it turns out good or not."

      Exactly. It's not like within a company, the demand for ridiculous amounts of CPU cycles materializes overnight. Suddenly, Production Dept says to CIO, "Hey, we need to render two ho
  • Important Question (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tiberius_Fel (770739) <fel&empirereborn,net> on Thursday October 27, 2005 @11:42AM (#13889314)
    An important question is whether this is a failure of marketing or a poor choice of target market. If the target market exists but is not using it, then you might be able to consider it a failure of marketing: There is demand and supply, but the demand is not aware of the supply. If the target market does not exist, then Sun has obviously chosen to go into an area which is not a worthwhile venture, at least at the present time.

    Though, it's possible that the target market hasn't been formed yet and Sun is going for the "If you build it, they will come"; i.e. by creating the possibility they will generate demand for it in the future.
    • I think it's more like they saw IBM making money from it and decided they can't let IBM have the whole market. It's not like this was Sun's idea in the first place. IBM was the first big company to make an offer. It seems to be working for IBM, so Sun already knew the market was there. What they probably lack is a clear differentiating factor for their customers.
    • An important question is whether this is a failure of marketing or a poor choice of target market.

      This is not a marketing issue. For people that need cycles, they will go wherever they can to get their needs met. They will come in record time if there is no wait in the queue. The price seems a bit high to me ($876,000 for 1 year of 100 CPUs which is not that many), Suns are a little slow compared to other machines. Most people use Linux for these kinds of applications, so there may be porting involved.

      I
  • I bet that not that many people actually need extra CPU cycles that don't want those cycles on a more permanent basis. Perhaps the only people that need short-term access to computer power are fly-by-night spammers and DDoS extortionists.
  • They should make it free to attract developers, then hype the service, grandfathering in people when it starts to take off. As it is, no one has apps, or even app ideas, ready. Sun's marketing people should know that, but failed. They have a second chance to do it right.
  • by nweaver (113078) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @11:48AM (#13889360) Homepage
    If you have tasks that can be done on compute farms, computer farms and clusters have gotten relatively easy to manage and deploy and are CHEAP.

    Sun's charge of what, $1/CPU-hour is just way way way out of line compared with what you can build yourself (using dual core, dual processor athlons from Sun, for example), if you have any consistant demand.
    • Sun's charge of what, $1/CPU-hour is just way way way out of line...

      ...and completely neglects time-honored marketing principles. Should've been $0.98/hour.

    • Well, it's very expensive for people who're not in a hurry.

      If you need a job done *now* and don't have time to build the cluster, I can see how it'd be attractive. Especially if it scaled really well, so you could spread it out over 2000 machines and finish in a day, instead of 100 machines for, say, two weeks.

      I personally wonder if Sun might've got more business if they scaled the prices, so putting jobs on a few machines was way cheaper than putting them on a lot. Maybe then they'd have got people trying
  • by caffeinex36 (608768) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @11:49AM (#13889368)
    "My Zombie network has 1000000000x the computing power of suns grid....

    and you can use mine for some good CC numbers. any company CLEARING doing a cost benefit analysis realizes that its much cheaper to go with me."

    -Founder of P0wnd Zombi3 N3twerkz
  • I've looked into grid computing a few times and ran a few clients as well. It seems that Jiva [jivaworks.com] does the same exact thing, but much cheaper. Then again there is also Parabon [parabon.com] and united devices [ud.com], though they tend to charge even more than Sun.
  • I am sure Sun had massive computer power just laying around, they probably realized they could leverage it as a commodity while investing nothing but RandD they were going to do anyway. If MS and Google and all plan on huge ajax like projects, sun may very well have something in the future. :"who needs more than 64kb anyway!"
  • Problem is... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dshannon (704783) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @11:55AM (#13889412)
    ... that I (as an EA) don't really understand the proposition and what I can do with it. Sure I've read the blurb, I've even been to Menlo Park and had the presentation, but the question I want to answer is *what* of all my core apps I'm going to run on it. Do I get to go to Oracle grid on this stuff? Can I run all my core back office apps on it? What do I pay on top of the $1/cpu/hr? Bandwidth back to head office?

    On top of all that, it's clear that I'm not going to abandon our existing investment in Sun hardware to take immediate advantage of this while that hardware still has a leasing life of 2-3 years. Sure I'm interested, it doesn't particularly benefit the company to have a stack of office space devoted to a computer room, and it's harder still when the business grows fast and we constantly need more gear. But Sun aren't in my face about this stuff, aren't giving me the numbers I need to take it to the CIO. When they do, then I'll think about it.

    On the other hand, Sun are to be congratulated on their other initiatives in this kind of pricing model. To an enterprise with small numbers of staff but high revenue, their per FTE/yr software licensing on Java Enterprise System et al is a wonderful model which many other vendors will have to catch up with as we move to multi-core CPU's as standard. For us, the other J2EE vendors just can't compete on price (FOSS excluded of course).

    Utility computing is coming, let's face it - but mainly it's a question of education of the masses, and time to get through hardware replacement cycles. Of course I'm a bit surprised that there's NO customers yet, but that still doesn't mean there won't be, ever.

  • Why not use BOINC? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Bob_Villa (926342)
    Couldn't a company work something out with BOINC where they pay BOINC $.01 per CPU-hour, and $.01 per milestone to each participating member?

    I bet people would sign up in droves if they could earn a little money for their free computer cycles. It could be paid quarterly or monthly using an online payment service like PayPal or through good old fashioned checks in the mail.

    Just an idea, and for only $.02 per hour instead of $1.00 per hour.

    Dave
  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @12:00PM (#13889456) Homepage
    There used to be a scientific time sharing industry, with mainframe computer time rented by the minute. It's dead. Most commercial jobs you can do on PCs. If you have an ongoing need for more crunch power than that, you can get your own computing power, and it will be cheaper than renting it. The market for huge numbers of intermittent cycles is weak to nonexistent. The basic problem is that there just aren't many companies with giant number-crunching jobs for which they are willing to pay. For the same reason, there are very few privately owned supercomputers. There was a "grid computing" utility about two years ago, before Sun tried it, and they didn't get customers either.

    Sun's "grid computing" operation seems to be an attempt to find a use for unsold Sun servers, or at least to avoid writing their value down to scrap prices.

    f you went to a big hosting company and said you wanted a thousand unlimited-CPU-at-low-priority shared hosting accounts, valid only from 2300 to 0700, you could probably get a really good price. If "grid computing" were useful, somebody would be doing this. All those nearly idle CPUs could be doing something.

    There's a successful grid computing company: Akamai [akamai.com]. What they sell is distributed hosting and cacheing, which they call "Akamai On Demand Managed Services". When the web site for the World Cup or NASCAR or Britney is getting millions of hits per hour during some special event, thousands of Akamai servers switch to serving those pages to handle the transient load. That's a successful "grid" application, and it's been working for years.

    Akamai does more than serve pages. You can run your business logic, in Java, on their servers. So they're already set up to run user code on their grid. If anybody is going to sell grid computing profitably, it's Akamai. They're all set up to do it. Yet they don't.

    • by ChaosDiscord (4913) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @12:37PM (#13889786) Homepage Journal
      The market for huge numbers of intermittent cycles is weak to nonexistent. The basic problem is that there just aren't many companies with giant number-crunching jobs for which they are willing to pay.

      It's a small market, but not nonexistant. Anyone doing high-energy physics needs as much processing power as they can get. [bbc.co.uk] Companies doing genetics research (say, researching gene therapy) tend to need lots of compute time doing massive searches and comparisions of genetic databases. Insurance companies doing simulations and analysis need massive computing power [loma.org]. Special effects companies chew through computer time [bbc.co.uk].

      There is no question that massive amounts of compute power are needed. The question is: is it actually cheaper to rent the CPU time instead of just buying and managing the machines themselves? I'm less certain on that. While someone else has to worry about buying and maintaining the machines, you need to modify your workload to work on machines you don't control. The remote site may upgrade to an incompatible system to serve other customers. They could configure themselves to run whatever OS loadout you want, but that will cost more to setup and maintain. You typically need to send your workload across the public internet; putting gigabit ethernet between your cluster nodes so you can toss 2 gigabyte data sets around is relatievly ship. Getting a big enough network connection to set those datasets across the country is more expensive. Running over the internet is also more fragile. Oops, a backhoe just took out the connection. When something goes wrong, why does the provider care? Doing it in house means you have local staff you can lean on. A provider can be made to care, to provide guaranteed response times, but it'll cost you even more.

      • Funny thing is knowing Sun and solaris 10 i wouldnt be surrprised if they happily let you take your pick, running the grid to be maximum flexibility, providing back/forwards solaris compatibility, BSD/UNIX compat, Linux compat, and probably even Mac and Windows Compat somehow possibly on other servers or wine or soemthing... who knows... they do i dont but i know they sure arent stupid when it comes to making things that work.
      • > It's a small market, but not nonexistant. ...

        >Companies doing genetics research (say, researching gene therapy) tend to need
        > lots of compute time doing massive searches and comparisions of genetic
        > databases.

        Except that's exactly the problem. You have this massive database. You can't just wave a magic wand and have the database appear on Sun's Grid. You have to upload it to them. Which takes, what, weeks? Years? Sure, maybe then their computation will be 10x faster, but you've lost the game f
      • It's a small market, but not nonexistant. Anyone doing high-energy physics needs as much processing power as they can get.

        "As much as they can get" is very different from "huge numbers of intermittent cycles".

        Academic phycists (like your link) aren't going to suddenly notice that they need 20,000 Ghz-hours within two weeks. If they had that kind of spurt demand, they'd be a good customer for Sun's grid.

        Instead, users like that will have a fixed annual budget, and will try to maximize their Ghz-hours. Cur
  • Not for science (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PineGreen (446635) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @12:08PM (#13889501) Homepage
    I know why they don't get any science customers from my own experience. Basically, if you buy a cluster of your grant, you pay just for the hardware, everything else: electricity, cooling, network, comp support comes from the department's budget. These costs are not negligible.

    If you tried to buy time from Sun, then everything goes from your budget... So, for an average scientist, who might be interested it is much cheaper to buy my own little cluster and piggyback on department's infrastructure...
    • Basically, if you buy a cluster of your grant...

      That is also key. A grant is usually very specific in terms of buying equipment and paying people. Paying for a service is something I've never heard of being allowed on a grant.
  • by puppetluva (46903) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @12:12PM (#13889531)

    Anyone who is savvy enough to need GRID computing is savvy enough to build their own grid very cheaply. Sun's GRID would only be useful for times where one's own grid is overloaded for brief periods of time and you don't want to scale up (a confluence of factors that is very hard to predict and order from Sun ahead of time).

    I'm surprised that there wasn't more of a business analysis of this ahead of time before they plunked down a ton of money to make it happen.

    • Anyone who is savvy enough to need GRID computing is savvy enough to build their own grid very cheaply.

      Yes, there are lots of desktops out there in corporate land. A lot of CPU's which are mostly idle, even during the busiest parts of the day. Word and Email don't chew up many cycles, although I imagine surfing the net could chew up lots more due to flash, etc. Then there's after hours...
  • lots of reasons (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bcrowell (177657) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @12:13PM (#13889547) Homepage
    Lots of possible reasons for this:
    1. Grid computing is a different style of computing. It requires a lot of software work to set it up, and not many people have experience with that style of programming. There are costs associated with all that. There are also inefficiencies in grid computing, e.g., you may not get your CPU time at exactly the moment you wanted it.
    2. $1/hour is $86,000/year, which is two orders of magnitude more than the cost of a headless cpu that you throw away a year later.
    3. Sun's business prospects look uncertain, and nobody wants to commit themselves to a ship that may not be afloat in 10 years.
    4. Many potential customers are military types, who would have security concerns.
    5. Many potential customers are academic types, who may already be getting the job done with systems like seti@home.
    6. Many potential customers are engineers, who think it sounds like a lot more fun to run their own machines.
    7. IT managers would like to expand their feudal domains rather than outsourcing their work and therefore losing power, prestige, and staff. If the computation was being done off-site, the next obvious question for the managers' bosses would be why shouldn't they cut in-house computing resources.
  • by Stephan Schulz (948) <schulz@informatik.tu-muenchen.de> on Thursday October 27, 2005 @12:15PM (#13889569) Homepage
    I'm a potential user. I have a program that has an infinite number of strategies to tackle hard search problems, and a benchmark library of 8000 problems. Much of my work is to find out which strategies work well on which classes of problems.

    I'm currently using our university student lab. But this is a mix of various machines, from 300MHz Sun Ultra 60 to 900 MHz SunFire machines, some of them limited in memory, and all used by students for their own nefarious purposes (e.g. pr0n and Quake). I'd love to be able to set 100 or so identical processors to the job. I could keep them fed for months. But at $1/CPU-hour, a day on 100 machines is $2400. I can buy 6 low-end Athlon machines for that money (and they will be just as good for the job). Yes, I do save in electricity and administration, but these costs are a) low for my application and b) come out of other budgets. For scientific work, SUN's prices are not acceptable. I would be tempted at a price of 1ct/CPU-hour. I would immediately buy into the thing for 0.1ct/CPU-hour with low-priority (i.e. I get to use only otherwise free processors).

  • I think they really screwed the pooch on the grid concept.

    Because all the folks I know who need the capacity need it for more than a few cycles. For example, friend of mine kicked Sun to the curb and built a 125+ cluster of Dell 2850's running Linux. This cluster does oceanographic simulation btw. So it wouldn't have been a candidate for Grid because it would have been hideously expensive, more so than the 125 computer and the necessary electrical and cooling improvements.
  • I was looking at their grid some time ago for some compilations. I wanted to build crosscompilers for other architectures (GCC ARM). There were several options and compilations took too much time including GCC, UCLIBC and the kernel itself, so I wanted to compile every iteration of the arguments in question (a selected list of options from the 3 packages).

    Therefore I needed lots of CPU power. I browsed around their site, no way to just BUY something and start using it. I emailed them. They answered with som
  • It says "irrelevant". Honestly, I posted a comment awhile back asking this forum if there was any more irrelevant company in tech these days than Sun. This article just convinces me even more.
    • Sun may be irrelevant in the larger picture (Sparc is a dead end, Sun kit is still absurdly expensive) but in the narrow OS world Sun is still highly relevant. Solaris 10 has really changed a lot of peoples minds on what they can expect from a proprietary UNIX, and should be reminding the Linux world why serious enterprises still don't take them entirely seriously. DTrace, ZFS, Zones, all of these are really excellent implementations of really cool ideas.
  • Seismic imaging and 3D computer graphics film rendering, are a couple of areas that might desire ten thousand nodes for a few months, and then dont want them for a while. I've heard of IBM offering a similar product. A major animation house rented a HP/Compaq super-cluster.
  • by crovira (10242) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @02:01PM (#13890571) Homepage
    They never asked who the heck would want this. Then they could refine things like costs and opportunities.

    This was an idea which was not required. The cheapest thing in the world is a CPU cycle. Unless you're doing things that demand far more that a Beowolf clauter can deliver, like SETI, and that aren't proprietary, like no commercial products I know of, you don't actually WANT this service.

    What where they thinking?

An adequate bootstrap is a contradiction in terms.

Working...