Suppliers Gird Grids

Vendors are overhauling managed grid strategies to overcome initial user skepticism

May 4, 2007

5 Min Read
Network Computing logo

Sun, Amazon, and Unisys will all overhaul their hosted storage grid offerings over the next few weeks in an attempt to lure skeptical users. (See Enterprises Still Not Sold on Grid.)

Users have already cited cost issues and service level uncertainty as big grid computing turn-offs, although vendors are now launching a fresh attempt to draw in hosted customers. (See Gridding My Teeth.)

Today, for example, Sun extended the reach of its pay-on-demand grid computing service beyond the U.S and added new features to the platform. The initiative is now available to users in 20 other countries, including India, China, and the U.K. (See Sun Unveils Grid Portal and Sun Steps Up Grid.)

At least one analyst told Byte and Switch that it will take more than vendor spiel to get CIOs to sign on the dotted line for a hosted grid service. "People understand the concept but there are still not enough pre-built applications or documented case studies to lower peoples' confusion thresholds," says Michael Dortch, director at the Robert Frances Group.

These sentiments were echoed by Gordon Haff, senior analyst at Illuminata. "It's still pretty early days for this type of utility computing -- it's more hype than reality," he says.Launched last year, Sun's Grid Compute Utility charges users $1 per CPU hour. (See Sun Grid Goes Live, Sun Grid Gets Thumbs Up, and Sun Scores Grid Customer.) Users around the world can now use the portal to access the grid and run applications on the vendor's back-end hardware. Initial target areas are life sciences, financial services, and computer-aided design, according to Rohit Valia, group manager of Sun's division, which runs the grid.

He says it has taken a full year to wade through the red tape of offering the service to other countries. (See Germany Goes Data Crazy.) "We had to comply with all the regulations -- things like export compliance and privacy legislation."

Sun says that around 1,000 U.S. users are already running applications on its back-end systems. Many are in the HPC or technology research fields: Takers include the Brookhaven National Lab, which is using the vendor to support its atomic research. Another is AMD, which is running chip design applications on the grid. (See AMD Selects Sun Grid.)

Today, Sun also added the ability to tie grid-based applications to applications running elsewhere. "[Previously] we would only allow an application to access data that was local within the Sun grid," says Valia, adding that firms can use an encrypted Internet link to draw data from other sources. "They can [now] use a VPN tunnel or HTTPS to ensure that the connection is encrypted," he says.

A grid-based financial application, for instance, could access stock price data from another system, according to the exec.Sun has also quietly shifted its pricing strategy for the storage component of its grid. The vendor had originally planned to offer storage on demand, priced at $1 per Gbyte per month, although this has been scrapped in favor of a less uniform pricing structure.

Users signing up to use the CPU-based grid now get 10 Gbytes of storage for free, and additional storage capacity can be bought on an individual basis, according to Valia. "We went with a very simple model that allows us to provide an adequate amount of storage for most of our users," he says.

This is a different approach than the one taken by Amazon, which launched its S3 storage grid last year, priced at 15 cents per month for each Gbyte stored and 20 cents for each Gbyte of data uploaded and downloaded. (See Amazon Takes Aim at Hosted Storage, Follow the Amazon, and Storage Gets Scattered.)

Next month, Amazon will change its prices. Although the actual storage costs will remain the same, the service provider has slashed its prices for uploading and downloading data.

Users looking to upload data to the grid will now pay a flat fee of 10 cents per Gbyte, with download prices also falling. Up to a maximum of 10 Tbytes, users will be charged 18 cents per Gbyte downloaded, and 16 cents per Gbyte for the next 40 Tbytes. Firms downloading more than 50 Tbytes will be charged 13 cents per Gbyte.Robert Frances Group's Dortch told Byte and Switch that this type of strategy is typical in an emerging market. "They are trying to tweak the business model to try and get people to dip their toe in the water," he says.

At least one S3 user welcomes Amazon's move. "For us, this is great -- we upload a lot, so 10 cents per Gbyte uploaded versus 20 cents per Gbyte uploaded is a big deal," writes Don MacAskill, CEO of online photo sharing service Smugmug, in a note on his firm's Website. (See SmugMug.) MacAskill also welcomed the changes to Amazon's download prices, adding that the original price of 20 cents per Gbyte was not cost-effective enough for his firm.

Unisys is also expected to enhance its own pay-as-you-go storage offerings next week, though the vendor is cagey on details. It's not clear yet how Unisys' new services will compare to other utility computing offerings already on the market. (See HP Delivers Storage Grid Solution and IBM Intros Grid Offering.)

James Rogers, Senior Editor Byte and Switch

  • Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD)

  • Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ)

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • Illuminata Inc.

  • Robert Frances Group

  • Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW)

  • Unisys Corp.

Stay informed! Sign up to get expert advice and insight delivered direct to your inbox

You May Also Like

More Insights