Sun begins new push into cloud services market

Sun is making a fresh push into the cloud services market, starting with hosted computing and storage services that it will offer to developers later this year.

The Sun Storage Cloud and the Sun Compute Cloud will compete with Amazon Web Services' S3 storage and EC2 compute services. Sun has been testing its services internally and will roll them out gradually starting this summer, it announced Wednesday. The company planned to demonstrate the services at its CommunityOne developer conference in New York City.

The services are aimed at developers, students and startups, and intended primarily for testing and developing new applications over the Internet using Sun's hardware. The idea is to help companies avoid having to buy new equipment, and to let developers set up their own infrastructure without needing an IT department to do it for them. They'll also be able to add more computing resources quickly, to test an application under a heavy load, for example.

Developers will access the services from a Web browser and be able to provision resources on the Linux, Windows and OpenSolaris operating systems. They'll be able to use a drag and drop interface, or a command line interface and a set of cloud service APIs, said Juan Carlos Soto, vice president of marketing for Sun's cloud division.

These will be the first of several cloud services that Sun plans to announce in the coming months, to create what it calls the Sun Open Cloud Platform. It won't announce the other services Wednesday, nor will it provide pricing or a general availability date for the initial offerings; that information will come in the summer, Soto said.

This will be Sun's second attempt at on-demand computing services. A few years ago it launched the Sun Grid Compute Utility, where companies could "rent" computing cycles on an hourly basis. The service attracted few customers and Sun stopped signing up new ones last year, though it said it will continue to support them for now.

That effort was geared more towards high-performance computing and research customers, according to Sun. The new services are aimed squarely at developers, and they come after Amazon has blazed a trail for cloud services and shown what can be successful.

Sun hopes to differentiate itself from Amazon by being more open with its APIs, which it will publish on the Web under a Creative Commons license, where customers can view them and contribute to their development, Soto said. They'll include a storage administration API, a storage WebDAV API, and a storage object API that will be compatible with Amazon S3, he said. Sun will also provide client libraries for Java, Ruby and Python development.

Being open with the APIs will help partners to build on top of Sun's services more quickly, according to Chander Kant, CEO of Zmanda, which offers a service for backing up databases to Amazon S3, and which will offer a similar service for the Sun Storage Cloud. He noted Sun's use of WebDAV, an HTTP extension that lets developers collaborate and access files over a network.

"Because WebDAV is open, there are more tools and utilities already built that we could use," Kant said. "The pace of innovation is faster because we can stand on the shoulders of others instead of trying to do everything from scratch."

Sun's brand may help his company attract more enterprise customers, he said. "While Amazon S3 is a tried and tested service and has proved popular with the Web crowd, we think when we go and sell to enterprises, Sun's offering -- particularly if they are already using Sun servers or Sun storage - will be a natural for them," Kant said.

Sun still has much work to do, he noted, such as building a robust payments system. "Amazon has a very good infrastructure for monthly billing and holding onto your credit card data and so on. ... That's something Sun is going to have to learn," he said.

Sun will continue to work with Amazon even while it competes with it, Soto said. OpenSolaris OS will continue to be an option on EC2, and Sun will support Amazon's object-store API, so that developers can take an application developed on S3 and move it to the Sun Storage Cloud, Soto said.

Sun is expected to launch other cloud services in the future, including potentially hosted versions of its MySQL database and other infrastructure products.

"Sun expects to play many roles in cloud computing, as a direct provider of cloud services, as a partner to service providers putting cloud computing into place, and as a supplier to enterprises launching internal 'private' clouds inside the firewall," said IDC analyst Jean Bozman.

Its cloud infrastructure will include x86 and Sparc hardware hosted at Switch Communications' SuperNAP data center in Las Vegas, Soto said. Sun is using the software it acquired in January from Q-Layer for provisioning the servers, storage and other resources.

The cloud services will be available to developers worldwide, so long as their are no legal restrictions preventing them from using them, Soto said. Some countries prohibit their citizens' personal data being stored outside of the country, for example.

"Amazon did a good job of bringing their services to market, but this is a market that is still in its very early stages in our view," Soto said.

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