A conversation on the Sun Grid Compute Utility offering available from Network.com

Sun recently announced international expansion of the Sun Grid Compute Utility available from Network.com. We sat down with Rohit Valia of the Network.com team to discuss this important pay-per-use utility offering from Sun.

On The Record (OTR): How does Sun define Grid computing?
Rohit Valia (RV): Grid computing provides a horizontally scaled infrastructure that matches pools of resources against applications requesting access to those resources in an automated manner. It allows these applications to take advantage of multiple compute resources to perform the tasks faster while at the same time increasing the accuracy and quality of the results.

OTR: How long did it take Sun to get the Grid to market? What's the core technology at the heart of the network?
RV: Building a public Grid compute facility required bringing together a lot of moving parts. These parts ranged from creating data center operations to building a security architecture all the way to scaling to a multi-tenet model to ensure we meet with all regulations related to the business. The team did an incredible job launching the service in about a year. The core technology manages the complexity of putting together a system with so many moving parts to allow self service by users and have the experience be completely automated.

OTR: What innovative things are customers doing with the Sun Grid?
RV: Customers are leveraging the network.com infrastructure for a variety of tasks ranging from uses in Life Sciences in drug discovery research to generating fractals for recreational art. Since the launch of the Sun Grid Developer Kit, users are now able to develop applications in the NetBeans IDE, and send the application and data for processing to the Grid from within the Development IDE.

OTR: How is the application catalog being used by customers?
RV: The Sun Grid Application Catalog provides a simple model for end users to leverage pre-configured, pre-tested applications. Users can upload their data and use the published applications to run against their data. We have published a couple of dozen applications and are constantly working with open source communities and partners to add more. Applications are available in many different categories including Life Sciences, Manufacturing and Computational Mathematics. There are even applications that can do computer animations and electronic design verification, which are all compute intensive tasks.

OTR: Do I need to use Solaris on the Grid? Or can I use other operating systems?
RV: As an application catalog, all the users need to bring is data. In that context it is not relevant which OS is serving the application. However, the infrastructure is powered by the industry leading Solaris 10 operating system and developers of applications need to run compatible binaries.

OTR: What kind of ROI can a Grid computing user expect to see?
RV: The ROI depends on the value of time to market for them and the level of resources available. For example, a job that runs for a 1,000 minutes on 100 nodes is billed at only $17. The job would be completed in only 10 minutes assuming it is a perfectly parallel task. Compare that to running the same job on a single machine, and it would run for approximately 17 hours. The main ROI is the value of getting back the results in 10 minutes versus about 17 hours.

OTR: What's next in the world of HPC?
RV: This question is best answered by looking at which industry or task is going to adopt HPC next. To show you how far-reaching the technology is, just the other day we were talking to a company that makes potato chips using simulations to see how a potato chip would fly through the oven to reduce breakage while baking them. The sky really is the limit where HPC is applicable.

OTR: What are Sun's future plans for the Grid?
RV: Expansion. More specifically, it's the expansion of both capabilities and geographies served. The goal is to enable all developers to be able to leverage the infrastructure for all reasons for which they use their current infrastructure. The Grid service would ease their pain so they don't have to deal with the issues related to infrastructure management.

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