Sun Cloud looks beyond Java

Although Java is a key ingredient, Sun promises an all-purpose cloud akin to Amazon Web Services

Sun Microystems, which announced Sun Cloud in March, is taking a different tack than the Java clouds from Google, Aptana, and Stax because it wants to be more than just a Java provider. The new cloud will create new clusters of machines from any disk image, including some of the most popular versions of Linux and Solaris. Java, of course, will be found in most of these images, but you don't need to use it if you want to, say, run some emulated version of Cobol on a version of Puppy Linux. Unless Sun Cloud is interrupted by Oracle's acquisition, it should be available in a few months.

"One of the things we've noticed is that people get concerned about getting locked in," said Craig McClanahan, a senior staff engineer at Sun. "We also anticipate third parties will want to create images and make them available on the cloud as well."

[ See today's review of Java clouds: Google App Engine, Aptana Cloud, and Stax. ]

Many of the details about the plans and the pricing are not complete, nor could we review or test the system. McClanahan said that Sun wants to emulate many of the features that Amazon offers and to improve upon them when they can. Sun's data storage API, for instance, will offer a set of calls that will be very similar to Amazon's S3.

"It's bug-for-bug compatible," jokes McClanahan. "It's as similar as we can make it. Some of the namespaces have Sun instead of Amazon."

But Sun isn't stopping with S3 compatibility. It's also planning on opening up a version of WebDAV, the Web-based data access layer common with Web servers.

The biggest change may be the automatic configuration of a cluster of machines that act like one. While other clouds deploy single machines at a time and require you to knit them together into a cluster with a load balancer, Sun's cloud will allow you to deploy clusters as full units, already configured.

All of these services will be controllable through a REST API and sample code for Java, Python, and Ruby that allows users to automate some of the configuration of their machines.

It may be too early, though, to guess much of what Sun will ultimately roll out because the company has been experimenting with cloud-like services from long before the word "cloud" became popular. Its lab, for instance, developed Project Caroline, a Java cloud that is more similar to the likes of Google and Stax. The servers start up new virtual machines as needed and rely upon the standard Java security model for much of the control.

McClanahan says there are many more ideas like Project Caroline that may be part of the final solution, but the company is not interested in limiting itself to the Java world.

"From a market viewpoint, we love Java of course, but it was felt it was too restrictive," he said.

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