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Pay-Per-Use Computing


By Allison Proffitt

June 13, 2007 |  Sun Microsystems has announced that it is expanding Network.com, its pay-per-use computing utility, to 24 countries and offering new features. In addition to the United States, Network.com is now available in the United Kingdom, most of Western Europe, Australia, Japan, and Singapore.

“It’s been used to help life science start-ups,” said Rohit Valia, group project manager. Network.com sidesteps extensive in-house compute infrastructure for a pay-per-use model available through a free online account. Members sign up for a free account and buy CPU hours in $1/hr increments. From there, they have access to the Application Catalogue of open source and licensed applications as well as the new Internet Access feature.

Scientists submit their data through Network.com and choose an application to process their request. Applications are categorized and labeled for easy access. Open source apps are free, while licensed applications are available via digital entitlement tokens offering the user temporary access to the applications. Sun provides firewalls to protect the IP of both users and vendors, and monitors tokens’ expirations, but allows vendors to track their tools and connect with users.

For projects that require more than just “off-site data crunching,” the new Internet Access feature allows running applications to gather new data in real time through the Internet. In practice, applications running on Network.com can adjust and recalculate as new data from the researcher is made available. Accounts come with 10 GB of data storage.

The Applications Catalogue, while enabling users’ computing, is also an environment that fosters new development. Apps are free to list, and anyone can publish programs. Sun has set up a development community on Java.net to house feedback loops between developers. “Developers can put an application out there for early testing, publish it to the [Applications] Catalogue, and track who is using it and how much,” said Valia.   

Network.com launched in October 2006, and is based on the Sun Grid Compute Utility and powered by Solaris 10 OS and Sun Grid Engine machines running on Sun’s x64 hardware. Current customers include Brookhaven National Laboratory and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The grid is currently running at 70% capacity. When asked if more jobs would necessitate a reservation system for computing power, Valia responded, “No, we’ll just add more nodes.”

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