Sun adds pieces to

Sun Microsystems Inc. last month continued its grid computing push with the launch of a reference architecture and product bundle for setting up Intel Corp.-based computing grids.

The grid computing model – in which organizations tap unused computing resources via the integration of distributed systems – has been a hot topic of late. Vendors such as Sun are banking that organizations can rely on multiple low-cost blade servers that can be added as demand spikes, rather than on mainframe boxes, which often are underutilized.

Grid computing enables provisioning for a single application, especially apps dedicated to scientific computing. Launched at its SunNetwork 2003 conference in San Francisco, the Sun Fire V60x Compute Grid is a reference platform that meshes integrated hardware and software. According to David Simmons, group manager for technical market products computer systems at Sun, as increased demands for processing power rise, computational grids will be more common within mainstream enterprises. Currently, Sun’s grid computing strategy targets the enterprise design automation, mechanical computer-aided engineering, petroleum and life sciences verticals, he added.

Specifically, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based firm announced the Sun Control Station 2.0 management software and Sun Grid Engine Enterprise Edition. The technology is preloaded on a Cluster Grid Manager management node for simplifying grid management and improving compute resource utilization.

A rack consisting of 32 dual-2.8GHz or 3.06GHz x Intel Xeon processors, Sun Fire V60x servers and integrated management software starts in price at US$185,000, Sun said.

Grid computing, in its infancy, is not without limitations. It creates a virtual computing environment combining widely dispersed computing, storage and network capabilities used for collaboration, sharing data and applications within heterogeneous environments. But while the technology is feasible technically, there are obstacles to overcome. There are business process issues – “can I trust the department down the hall down not to steal my computing power?” Simmons said.

Stephen Ibaraki, research head for Advanced Professional Programs for Capilano College and chief architect for iGEN Knowledge Solutions, both in Vancouver, said another limitation of widespread grid computing is the high cost of high speed, dense Gigabit interfaces ports and the 10+ Gbps trunk-speed requirements. Pricing needs to be below the $5,000 per port for this technology to gain wider penetration, he said.

Among the new UltraSparc IIIi boxes unveiled last month is the Sun Fire V440 Server, a four-processor, rack-optimized UltraSparc server priced at US$9,995. Sun is targeting rivals such as Dell Computer with this system, which is suited for application server deployments.

In addition, Sun Fire V250 Tower Server -Sun’s first tower release in five years – features a SunPCI III Coprocessor Card, enabling users to run multiple separate operating environments including Solaris, Linux and Windows on a single sever. Samba, also included, provides open source code for running workgroup file and print applications.

In Canada, Sun has been specifically targeting the technology to larger organizations, specifically through pilot projects within the oil and gas industry, Simmons said. Mainstream enterprise use is still down the road, he added.

Grid computing should become more prevalent within the next five years, Ibaraki said. “For the average Canadian enterprise, clusters over time will evolve into intra-grids and then into extra-grids as they share resources securely with partners….Inter-grids will take 10 years to reach maturity with the deployment currently found in research.”