Sun challenges Amazon for cloud dominance

Cloud computing heats up as Sun Cloud Compute and Sun Cloud Storage offer new alternatives to Amazon Web Services

Move over, Amazon. The leading provider of cloud services is about to get some serious competition from Sun Microsystems, which made its entrance into cloud computing Wednesday with plans to offer compute and storage services built on Sun technologies, including OpenSolaris and MySQL.

Developers building for the public cloud platform, called Sun Cloud, will be able to leverage Sun's cloud APIs to interoperate with other clouds and cloud-based applications. Sun Cloud is being launched at the CommunityOne developer event in New York City. Sun Cloud will accelerate delivery of new applications, reduce risk, and scale computing capacity to meet demand, Sun said.

The first two services, Sun Cloud Compute and Sun Cloud Storage, will be available this summer. Featured in Sun Cloud are Virtual Data Center (VDC) capabilities acquired through the purchase of Q-layer in January. VDC offers developers a single management interface for staging an application running on OpenSolaris, Linux, and Windows. A drag-and-drop method is used for provisioning compute, storage, and networking resources via a Web browser.

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"[Q-layer] brings this construct, which is that of allowing us to give a developer or a team of developers the ability to create their own Virtual Data Center in the cloud," said Lew Tucker, CTO of the Sun Cloud Business Unit. The VDC interface, for dragging and dropping virtual machine images, will be demonstrated at Wednesday's event.

Sun anticipates that the cloud scene will feature many clouds, both public and private, that are interoperable and driven by different application types. Applications eyed for deployment on Sun Cloud include Web 2.0 applications, social networking systems, gaming applications, and anything that needs the scale of the Web, said Tucker. Departmental applications are envisioned as well.

"What we're introducing in New York here is we're talking about our public cloud," for developers, Tucker said. Sun has seen a lot of interest in cloud computing from enterprises, he said. "It’s getting very rapid uptake at least in the large enterprises today," said Tucker.

Using AWS (Amazon Web Services) and WebDAV protocols, developers can have file access over the Internet. Through prepackaged Virtual Machine Images (VMIs) of Sun's open source software, developers can immediately deploy applications to Sun Cloud.

Developers building public and private clouds can access Sun API technology and design for compatibility with Sun Cloud, the company said. Sun's cloud API allows programmatic access to such resources as virtual machines, networks, and virtual storage. The API set is REST-based and features Sun Cloud Storage API, Sun Cloud Storage WebDAV API, and Sun Cloud Storage Object API. They are offered under a Creative Commons license. Developers can use the Java, Ruby, and Python languages with these APIs.

Amazon compatibility is featured as well. "We are providing compatibility with Amazon's S3 storage," so anybody who developed Amazon applications can access Sun's storage or vice versa, said Tucker.

Sun believes its VDC capabilities give it an edge over Amazon. More Sun cloud services will be introduced over time, Tucker said. Sun Cloud differs from the Google App Engine cloud platform because Google offers a way to build applications, while Sun is providing fundamental infrastructure as a service, he said.

"I think cloud computing in general plays to a lot of the technology strengths that Sun has had for a long time," in network computing, said analyst Jean Bozman, research vice president at IDC. Open source technology also can be used in the cloud, she said.

Developers in the cloud get "pay as you go computing" and do not have to deal with capacity planning as they would with conventional, test-driven development, she said.

Sun will continue to support its Network.com grid computing customers, the company said. While Sun Cloud is geared to developers, startups, and students, Network.com was designed for high-performance computing and research, according to Sun. Sun is no longer taking any new customers for Network.com.

Partners in Sun's cloud initiative include cloud application providers RightScale and Zmanda as well as cloud management vendors, software-as-a-service and platform-as-a-service providers, service providers, and cloud consulting companies. Eucalyptus will enable users to integrate with other platforms and services.

The Sun Cloud Computing Business Unit was formed in July 2008. Sun's cloud will be deployed on Sun blade servers at the Switch Communications Supernap datacenter in Las Vegas. Both x86 and SPARC blades will be used, with OpenSolaris serving as the datacenter OS while users can run whatever OS they want by using OpenSolaris virtualization capabilities.

Pricing for Sun Cloud will be announced this summer.

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