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Lights On But No One Home At Sun Grid

Zonk posted more than 8 years ago | from the please-leave-a-message-after-the-tone dept.

Sun Microsystems 232

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."

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fp? (0, Offtopic)

floodo1 (246910) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889219)

fp?

Re:fp? (4, Funny)

EvilEddie (243404) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889233)

Obviously this news article is about as popular as SUN's new program

Re:fp? (0, Redundant)

Xaggroth (851428) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889320)

yeah ghost town population zero

It's entirely SUN's own fault (5, Insightful)

Work Account (900793) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889228)

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.

Re:It's entirely SUN's own fault (0, Offtopic)

RingDev (879105) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889278)

"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."

Yes, because software developers don't eat and have no need for earthly goods.

-Rick

Most of us have friends and family (3, Informative)

Work Account (900793) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889308)

Many intelligent developers like Bram Cohen, the creator of Bittorrent, didn't have much while they were developing.

IIRC he spent a year or two living frugaly with relatives or friends because he knew he had a great idea and wanted it done as soon as possible.

Sure, he could have used some money, but he wasn't about to get a job and then have the company own his $8.7 million dollar idea (and that's just the current market value not including future potential revenue streams).

Re:Most of us have friends and family (2, Insightful)

RingDev (879105) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889356)

So the answer is for coders to live off well-fair and with their parents?

Personally, I think that idea sucks. I'd much rather atleast get some VC to survive off of and launch an LLC to get the product up.

-Rick

Re:Most of us have friends and family (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13889463)

I'm sure the VC folks'll be beating down your door when they see your grasp of your own language and you'll be off of "well-fair" in no time.

Re:Most of us have friends and family (4, Informative)

Guspaz (556486) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889388)

No, he did so because he focuses on a problem to solve at the expense of other things. He didn't intend to turn BitTorrent into a business, and only founded the company because his father kept bugging him about it. He has Asbergers, a form of Autism, and it's an obsession with solving a problem that leads him to do what he does, not business sense.

He didn't sit down and said "Hey, I have this great idea for content distribution that I think I can make money from."

He's said this numerous times in various interviews.

Re:It's entirely SUN's own fault (2, Insightful)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889310)

The problem with that comment is that free software development is often done as a hobby, not as a paying job. Sometimes it can be used to make a name for yourself too, though that's a pretty elusive goal.

Re:It's entirely SUN's own fault (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13889319)

The average software developer could survive without eating for a very long time!

And probably be healthier too.

Pizza Physique? (0, Redundant)

Philip K Dickhead (906971) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889556)

I am re-absorbing my own mass! Yuk.

Sun seems to have discovered that the statement, "The network is the computer" does not equate to, "Build it and they will come."

Instead think, "The lights are on, but no-one is home."

Re:It's entirely SUN's own fault (5, Interesting)

eln (21727) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889329)

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.

Re:It's entirely SUN's own fault (3, Funny)

dwandy (907337) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889382)

...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...

Re:It's entirely SUN's own fault (3, Insightful)

SocietyoftheFist (316444) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:It's entirely SUN's own fault (1)

Orasis (23315) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889505)

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.

Re:It's entirely SUN's own fault (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13889346)

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.

Re:It's entirely SUN's own fault (2, Insightful)

Craig Ringer (302899) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889614)

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.. (2, Insightful)

shbazjinkens (776313) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889229)

Well, it isn't like computers are so prohibitively expensive that everyone is rushing to use this anyway.

Re:Duh.. (2, Informative)

Guspaz (556486) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889474)

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 solution isn't really cheaper than a company doing it yourself. It's more expensive than buying the hardware yourself and paying some people to set it up. This is why when small companies need to render EFX for a movie, they buy up a lot of hardware, use it to make the movie, and then sell it off again. It's cheaper that way. They did this for Riddick.

Re:Duh.. (3, Insightful)

elmegil (12001) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889511)

Sun's solution isn't really cheaper than a company doing it yourself.

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

Re:Duh.. (1)

Zemplar (764598) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889580)

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.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13889686)

I could spend about a million dollars and get 350 dual-processor dual-core Opterons, use them for a month

Cuz, you know, elves put this shit together overnight. And they run it too.

meeeeep (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13889230)

meep

Re:meeeeep (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13889384)

How is this off-topic? I am trying to demonstrate the sound of an empty, idle grid, and this characterization is accurate both of that sound, and the sound of Sun sales execs when asked to list customers. Off-topic? I think not! Damned moderators!

Secret Projects? (5, Insightful)

HTH NE1 (675604) | more than 8 years ago | (#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?

Re:Secret Projects? (3, Insightful)

xtracto (837672) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889307)

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.

It's all about the applications. (2, Insightful)

khasim (1285) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889416)

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 servers, storing and processing your data. Payroll is an easy app for that.

I think Sun is missing part of the equation.

Grid computing is cheap really (1, Offtopic)

linzeal (197905) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889321)

Not exactly, but one of many reasons methinks. Another one is that people have a real problem running anything with their numbers on someone else's hardware period. If they are thinking that this is going to fly in the US where a great majority of adults drive their own cars to work even in cities with public transportation, own 3400 square foot McMansion instead of a 2000 square foot Victorian or in general prefer their own toys to play with they are smoking better stuff than me and I'm in Humboldt. Sun should of lent the platform to be sold as a software solution that would run on existing hardware like the office computers at night. I'm currently writing up a white paper for a grid computing solution at my new campus and it has nothing to do with purchasing any hardware or software and everything about using the computers we already have more effectively.

Re:Secret Projects? (3, Insightful)

monkeydo (173558) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889524)

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.

I volunteer! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13889237)

Can they compile my Computer Science homework for me?

They never called me back.. (5, Interesting)

erwin (8773) | more than 8 years ago | (#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....

It could simply be advanced trolling (2, Funny)

Work Account (900793) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889268)

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 ;-)

Re:They never called me back.. (1)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889528)

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 larger rendering houses. If Sun's computing grid is as cost effective as they make it out to be, it could be a boon for these small time 3D shops. At the very least, they'd add more "little guys" to the mix to help Sun sell the N1 to the big guys.

schnigger. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13889245)

durrrrr

Cost of porting, uncertain future of the service (3, Insightful)

UR30 (603039) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889262)

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?

Re:Cost of porting, uncertain future of the servic (1)

immovable_object (569797) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889376)

I totally agree. No effort has been made to figure out the security aspects of the solution. How do I know that my data is distinct from any other companies' data? Also, when it comes to big compute farms, doesn't that mean that I'm working on HUGE datasets? How do I get TB's of data to the gride farm and then get it *back*?

Seems like a "you build it and they will come" mentality. In the days of laptops with good compute facilities, I have to think this represents dinosaur thinking.

Re:Cost of porting, uncertain future of the servic (1)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889399)

Nah. This was for short-term high-CPU demand projects, like genome sequencing and protein folding.

ouch. (1)

CDPatten (907182) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889272)

that's pretty embarrassing. Too bad Sun doesn't have google or apple's distinguished media presence. This could have been a good thing! "Sun Microsystems's pay-per-use system is so incredible that it has out played even the smartest business in the world to date. It will take some time for the rest of the world to catch up with sun's amazing and revolutionary system."

Ha ha (1, Offtopic)

Moby Cock (771358) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889273)

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 (3, Insightful)

LilGuy (150110) | more than 8 years ago | (#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 (1)

EnderWiggin99 (84576) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889408)

Remember that stupid Alexander the Great movie last year?

No.

Re:Ha ha (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13889431)

I don't know, I saw it in the theater, and I thought Alexander was great.

Re:Ha ha (3, Insightful)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889453)


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 (1)

tez_h (263659) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889460)

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 it has been a bit of an expensive commercial experiment.

-Tez

Re:Ha ha (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889490)

You would subscribe to this if your small business needed a million cpu hours next week, and all you had was 100 computers.

Re:Ha ha (1)

lpangelrob (714473) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889495)

Heh.

The only reason I remember that movie was because I remember it came out either directly with, or two to three weeks after, Troy, which was arguably a Hollywood success (assuming break-even to be successful).

That was not a good idea — Brad Pitt, and if I recall correctly, the currently-invicible Orlando Bloom, were in Troy. I can't recall the name of a single character in Alexander.

Re:Ha ha (1)

BewireNomali (618969) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889719)

dude, angeline jolie was in Alexander.

MILF.

Re:Ha ha (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13889582)

wow. i wouldn't want to be your friend.

you reek of bitterness. You must be a really fun drunk.

good luck with that, dude.

Price too high? (4, Informative)

GGardner (97375) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Not a question of price, but privacy, latency (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13889330)

Why on earth would any company ship their valuable data to a third party to process?

Nevermind the fact that huge seismic or financial monte carlo simulations require gigabytes of data to process - it might not be feasible to ship it over the internet and send the huge results back again in a time efficient way.

It is far easier to build and use your own Linux cluster.

Re:Not a question of price, but privacy, latency (1)

xtracto (837672) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889387)

Why on earth would any company ship their valuable data to a third party to process?

Completley agree with you, moreover the companies (as stated on the article) that could use this service are finance focused companies and maybe some phramacy companies.

This makes me think on the software laiability issues point, I am sure these companies would demand something very very far from the typical "EULA" or contract to use this service.

Darn I am sure any of the big stock exchange palyers would be really pissed of if someone was sniffing their data during the transit from Sun clusters to their clients.

I think a good way for Sun to make this service go up is that a company could rent them this CPU power and lease it to smaller users. Something on the lines of an Eceed UNIX client whose "virtual" servers run on these Sun clusters.

I remember I saw a talk on this system on the TADA0-IJCAI05 workshop. IIRC they are planning to give away CPU!

Re:Not a question of price, but privacy, latency (1)

steve_l (109732) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889522)

You give it away to somebody you trust, who locks down the cluster and gives you a private datalink, in exchange for CPU power you cannot afford yourself. And those big datacentres ought to have big private filestores for you to use too.

I dont know about pay-for-grid, but we host CERN-originated Large Hadron Collider simulations on our cluster, as do other sites all over Europe. There isnt the heed to build a single giant linux cluster, when you can use spare cycles from high performance across the entire continent.

-steve

Re:Price too high? (1)

Frank T. Lofaro Jr. (142215) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889367)

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.

Re:Price too high? (1)

Mr. Sketch (111112) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889419)

Just curious, what search terms did you use? I tried googling for something similar a while back and couldn't find very many companies that did this or would advertise their rates on their webpage.

Re:Price too high? (1)

GGardner (97375) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889464)

I have no affiliation with any of these companies, but try something like "render farm price Ghz". I see prices like 30 cents per ghz-cpu-hour, in volume, including use of rendering software (dunno if the software is open source, or not). 30 seconds of searching found three companies, so I assume there's a bunch more.

Re:Price too high? (2, Informative)

southpolesammy (150094) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889575)

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 worthwhile. Now I don't pretend to speak for others, but our SA's administer multiple systems, typically at least 20/SA, so unless your SA's make more than $300k/yr, I can't see this being feasible.

New system, new market, enterprise products (3, Interesting)

jiushao (898575) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Smartest Reply I have read so far (1)

kninja (121603) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889462)

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 yet (as parent said - ahead of their time), or that a competitor does it cheaper or better. This happens all the time to small startups, divisions within companies get axed, etc.

"More companies fail from a lack of customers, rather than a lack of product"
(I'm not saying Sun is going to fail, but this division might get axed.)

Welcome to the business world, it's vicious, yet rewarding if you do it right ('Google', 'Ipod' division).

Re:New system, new market, enterprise products (1)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889745)

"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 hours of animated video in three days two months from now! How do we do that?"

This'll become more popular when current render farms and computing clusters become obsolete, and not likely before then.

I'm sure there are governments that could make use of this service, and I'm also pretty sure that they would be able to get Sun to not publish their use of the grid.

Sunset (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13889311)

A few years ago, Sun's slogan was "We put the dot in the dot-com".
It seems to me that they new a new one.
How about:

"We put the O in Game Over"

Important Question (5, Insightful)

Tiberius_Fel (770739) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

IBM (1)

truthsearch (249536) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889660)

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.

Re:Important Question (1)

LnxAddct (679316) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889717)

No, the problem here is price. Its $1/per hour/per cpu. If I have something that takes on average 60 days to calculate using a 20 node cluster and I do this yearly, it will cost me $28,800 per year to use Sun's grid. I could buy a 25 to 30 node grid for that kind of money with comparable node to node performance. So I'd be getting more nodes to work with and I would have a cluster that can be used for probably the next 5 years of that same computation, and during the times where its not needed for that computation it could be used in other areas. Also, it could be in a nice little rack or two in the corner of the office somewhere, so it taking up space is not an issue. The cost savings, plus benefits, of keeping it in house is astounding, just from raw hardware costs you save $115,200. Both clusters would have to be administered, but you have a much higher level of control in house, not to mention porting is probably easier and you can be certain that you won't have to port again for at least 5 years. In order for Sun to make this cost effective for anyone, they need to make it outrageosly cheap, like 1 or 2 cents per hour per cpu, and that still might not be enough to overlook the advantages of having an in house cluster.
Regards,
Steve

Why use Sun when Zombies are cheaper? (1)

G4from128k (686170) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889318)

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.

Re:Why use Sun when Zombies are cheaper? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13889389)

The main thing Sun don't realise is that people wanting grid computing buy their own grids. I develop grid/parallel/HPC/whatever applications and the companies that consider heavy duty number crunching systems---mainly finance houses, academia or engineering concerns---buy their own.

The irony is that, in my experience, the most capable grid systems were composed of lots of Sun Fire servers!

Anyone notice it's still in Beta? (1)

quadra23 (786171) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889344)

In fact, however, Sun is still in beta with this CPU program and not set to launch a publicly available utility computing system for weeks...It seems hard to believe that Sun would pass on the opportunity to dangle such a user in front of the press if it existed given that we're 14 months away from the utility computing launch date...The company promises us such a day is coming sooner than later and that it will have plenty of customers to name in the near future. Still, given that it took a year to push the program to a beta, one wonders how long an actual living, breathing utility center will take.

I also must agree with anyone here who mentioned that you need to pick up customers during the development of the project and not just assume they'll come from no where. If you have at least one customer then they'll do far better publicity for you then thousands of dollars worth of marketing ever will. Sun might have a big name but that doesn't immediately get people jumping to their project. You don't dictate to people what they *should* do you make them think that using your product was *their* idea and that your just there to fulfill the customers requirements.

Re:Anyone notice it's still in Beta? (1)

rathehun (818491) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889396)

well - they are in partnership with Google now ;)

ChickenEggWare (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889354)

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.

Not suprising, just do the math... (5, Informative)

nweaver (113078) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889360)

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.

Re:Not suprising, just do the math... (1)

moviepig.com (745183) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889407)

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.

Re:Not suprising, just do the math... (1)

john83 (923470) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889430)

It does sound like a lot to me. I imagine the kind of people they're aiming at are researchers with a grant to perform some research, but who wouldn't need (and couldn't afford) as large a cluster as they need. The article from El Reg says that they are getting some private jobs from companies. "The reason you haven't heard about any Sun utility customers is because most of them have avoided the company's publicity requirement by avoiding the original product. A number of companies in the financial services and oil and gas sectors have purchased large quantities of Opteron CPUs from Sun, MacRunnels said. These customers negotiate their own price for the processors, tend to use the chips all the time instead of popping on and off the grid and refuse to reveal their names to the public. Sun has started to call these "commercial" utility computing customers. The company assures us that some of these commercial customers do pay for these utility computing services. They use huge blocks of processors to crank through models such as Monte Carlo simulations. Sun won't name any of the customers or say how many it has other than to declare "the figure is in the tens" of customers."

Re:Not suprising, just do the math... (1)

nweaver (113078) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889518)

And these commercial companies are probably paying a LOT less:

They are effectively leasing a cluster computer (leasing has tax advantages), and probably their rates are much closer to the real value:

EG, a 2core 2cpu SunFire X4100 is $7500. Lease probably amounts to ~1/3rd of that plus a little extra (lets say $800/cpu-year). Power for the beast is ~600W, so 150W/cpu. At $.20/KWh (includes cooling and reliability), thats ~$250/cpu-year. Lets add $100/cpu-year for the physical location and maintinence, that totals out to $1150/cpu-year.

So Sun probably charges these dedicated customers more like $1150-$1500/cpu-year (perhaps a little more than what they'd pay to build the cluster themselves, but they save hastle factor and having to find space). But this is VASTLY less than sun's retail price charge of $8760/cpu-year.

Demands big customers (1)

Craig Ringer (302899) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889673)

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 it out. Right now, it looks like to be worth it you've got to be in a serious hurry and/or unprepared, and willing to bet on a service you haven't used before. hmm.

Another barrier might be comms. You still have to get the data to the "grid" and get the results back. If we're talking terabytes - which isn't unlikely when talking about buying tens of thousands of CPU hours - then that's a big whack of data. Combine that with a customer who's in a hurry and doesn't already have their own HPC infrastructure...

Pssshhh thats because (4, Funny)

caffeinex36 (608768) | more than 8 years ago | (#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

Doesn't Jiva do this cheaper and faster (2, Informative)

abbyhoffman (533625) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889385)

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.

Getting Customers Is Tough (1)

no_pets (881013) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889391)

Getting customers is tough. I'm a small business owner and I know firsthand how tough it can be. Breaking people's habits and introducting products/services that go against traditional thinking as well as still being in Beta not to mention branding all work against Sun in this regard.

Wouldn't it be easier... (1)

drkstrm (921693) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889392)

... go the route of Seti@home with their distro processing as far as using extra CPU cycles instead of having one giant server farm that you wouldn't have exclusive access to anyway?

Re:Wouldn't it be easier... (1)

steve_l (109732) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889564)

Depends on whether or not you value your data. Things like Seti@home and open blender can pull it off because their tasks are cpu-intensive, public data and nobody cares about timeliness of results. Also their algorithms are very cpu-intensive compared to the amout of data sent round.

If you have large quantities of private data, and your algorithm doesnt distribute as well as the massively-distributed examples, then you have less choice. You may want a large supercluster with infiniband backbone and a few terabytes of RAID-5 network storage.

doesn't even let me request and account (2, Interesting)

menix (179754) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889403)

I'm on OpenBSD with KDE and when I click on the button to register for an account, nothing happens. There's the reason, bad programming. They don't have customers because people can't register! JERKS

Re:doesn't even let me request and account (1)

elmegil (12001) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889626)

Did you pay attention? It's in BETA. Sun's not doing an open "Google-style" BETA, they're restricting it. Whether that's a good choice or not, it's pretty obvious and not worth whining about don't you think?

Perhaps this is just a "hey its there, sell it!" (2, Insightful)

aphaenogaster (884935) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889404)

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... (4, Insightful)

dshannon (704783) | more than 8 years ago | (#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? (2, Interesting)

Bob_Villa (926342) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889413)

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

A Solution Looking for a Problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13889439)

I think Sun has to realize that most everyone out there who needs to farm out processing already has hardware, personnel and funding dedicated to the task. What they're asking is for companies to:

1) drop what they've invested in already
2) migrate everything to what Sun's using
3) broker a service contract with Sun for this service

*All* of these steps cost money, so forget about the $1/hr/CPU price tag. You're looking at long-term savings at best, which is a non-starter since short-term returns are more likely to justify the risks involved. Also, I'll bet that with step 2, Sun's pimping some Solaris/Java setup which is only a good fit for so many companies out there; what if your software runs on Windows or some other Unix? Oops.

It's just "time sharing", and it's obsolete (5, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889456)

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.

Re:It's just "time sharing", and it's obsolete (3, Interesting)

ChaosDiscord (4913) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889786)

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.

Not for science (3, Interesting)

PineGreen (446635) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889501)

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...

Sorta gives credence the idea that ownership... (1)

phorest (877315) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889521)

This gives me the idea that all the talk about hosted apps/services/storage is way overblown. Google shows their hand M$ bites, nothing to show for it (yet); yet let's create some more buzz how you should keep your stuff in some far-away place with little control.


I believe that even though it sounds good, people are reluctant only because ownership physically changes hands. Which in the business world that is an important distinction. I know this may seem offtopic but this posting really does point in this direction.


Maybe with the history of easily being able to access your servers/workstations via a multitude of ways (term servs, RDC, VPN, Citrix... etc.), the market just isn't getting worked up about it. Which in M$'s case, you get that ability standard with as little as 1 online XP box (RDC), but for us with servers and domain controllers RDC is a godsend...


Me, as a business owner will gladly deal with licensing fees for a variety of uses instead of leasing space for a monthly/subscription price. Even though EULA-wise you technically don't own anything M$, but physical possesion alludes that it is a tangible asset.

Budget Accountability (2, Interesting)

mjspinks (711569) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889525)

SUN seems to have missed the mark. Even in research, budgets are an issue. If an organization has n dollars to spend in solving a problem, results are expected using n dollars. When you purchase equipment, you can re-compile /re-run the job without adding to your expenses. In order to properly budget a research task (in terms of CPU time) you must know the amount of time required to solve the problem. If you are responsible for the decision to use the SUN Grid and your problem takes longer to run than expected (even at $1/CPU/hour) you could get intro trouble.

For example:
A problem that runs 25% longer than expected
Budgeted: 10,000 CPUS x 16 hours = $160,000
Actual: 10,000 CPUS x 20 hours = $200,000

This 4-hour / $40,000 overrun could prove detrimental to one's career.

Target Market is the problem (3, Insightful)

puppetluva (46903) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

lots of reasons (5, Interesting)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889547)

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.

Linux desktop opportunity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13889553)

This says a lot about whether or not people are willing to outsource IT infrastructure. Watch as MS, showing how nimble it can be, follows Google into the outsourced office suite arena. Watch as customers fail to materialize in great numbers. People like to own stuff themselves. They like to own their computers, their data, their music, whatever. People work hard, and expect to end up with something on their plate in return. They will never surrender everything they could otherwise own themselves to a third party. So if Linux/Apple/etc. is the last best game in down when it comes to desktop computing, they will win.

It's plain too expensive (5, Insightful)

Stephan Schulz (948) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889569)

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).

Re:It's plain too expensive (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13889645)

Heh. The problem is, it seems that all anyone would be willing to buy is "low-priority" time...

If no-one buys new clothes, the thrift stores will go empty.

A little more math, the actual customers... (0, Redundant)

nweaver (113078) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889627)

The "dedicated" commercial companies are probably paying a lot less.

They are effectively leasing a cluster computer (leasing has tax advantages), and probably their rates are much closer to the real value:

EG, a 2core 2cpu SunFire X4100 is $7500. Lease probably amounts to ~1/3rd of that plus a little extra (lets say $800/cpu-year). Power for the beast is ~600W, so 150W/cpu. At $.20/KWh (includes cooling and reliability), thats ~$250/cpu-year. Lets add $100/cpu-year for the physical location and maintinence, that totals out to $1150/cpu-year.

So Sun probably charges these dedicated customers more like $1150-$1500/cpu-year (perhaps a little more than what they'd pay to build the cluster themselves, but they save hastle factor and having to find space). But this is VASTLY less than sun's retail price charge of $8760/cpu-year.

Sun just wants about 5x what the market rate is for a CPU-year.

Maybe I misunderstand the concept (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13889641)

Bit I imagine this is not actually a replacement for your own servers (locked in) but a way to suplement them in a massive way from time to time. In that light I imagine it could be very useful with Sun taking the ownership costs (power/staff/maintaince/price) themselves during the downtime.

Say you have a little SPFX company in Hollywood and you've got a big job. You can do it but don't have the capacity to churn out the end product in the time frame. Now suddenly you can have that capacity right away with minimal hassle and without selling everything off when you are done.

Then again maybe I'm misunderstanding the concept but that would also explain why you have no big customer list to flag around since it would be used on an as needed basis.

The reason as I see it (1)

kilodelta (843627) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889677)

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.

Ignoring small customers (1)

mnmn (145599) | more than 8 years ago | (#13889706)

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 something like $1000 per hour per CPU.... dont remember but it was just not worth it..

I got myself a remote server at serverpronto.com, at $30 per month with an Athlon CPU. Left compile batch files on it for a couple o weeks and I got what I wanted (wasnt a blazing success, but I got the files on the cheap). Next I bought an Athlon64 mobo + cpu and used my scsi disk on it to get the compiles much faster.

Sun has abandoned the smallscale hacker community and they still have a LOT to learn. Nobody will pay $1000 for a service theyve never used before, and dont know how to use. Setup server farms with Ultrasparc4 cpus and Linux/Solaris running and offer them for a few bucks an hour, or a $100 per month including high intenet bandwidth. Heck even I can make a profit from THAT.

too early ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13889707)

i can see some use in a year or so
with longhorn, DRM, blueray
and that funny funny monitor cable :P
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