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Guide To Cloud Computing

The market is getting crowded with Web-based software and storage offerings. Here's what you need to know about the cloud computing strategies of Amazon, Google, Salesforce, and five other leading vendors.

John Gage, Sun Microsystems' co-founder, coined the phrase "the network is the computer" nearly 20 years ago. Arguably, that was the beginning of the cloud--but the wind changed direction.

Sun "got it backwards," CTO Greg Papadopoulos now says. How so? With its Sun Grid technology, Sun focused on mission-critical, highly redundant data center environments. "We found that nobody cared about that," says Papadopoulos. "They just want it to be easy to use."

Making cloud computing easy to use is now the focus of two initiatives at Sun:, a collection of grid-enabled online applications available on a pay-per-use basis, and Project Caroline, a research effort to make cloud-based resources available to developers working on Web applications and services. They coincide with what Papadopoulos calls "Red Shift," his theory that computing demand will exceed capacity at many companies. The obvious solution: cloud computing. is evolving into a "virtual on-demand data center" that customers can use in real time as business demands change, says senior director of software Mark Herrin.

Greg Papadopoulos, CTO, Sun Microsystems

Cloud computing must be easy, says Sun's Papadopoulos
Project Caroline is intended to become a hosting platform for SaaS providers. The goal is to make it "far more efficient to develop multiuser Internet services rapidly, update them frequently, and reallocate resources flexibly and cost-efficiently," according to Sun. An open source project led by Sun VP of technology Rich Zippel, Caroline supports applications built in several programming languages, including Java, Perl, Python, Ruby, and PHP. "We don't really think that 'all applications will tie back to Sun servers on the Internet,'" Zippel writes on his blog. "We're really bullish about the ability to develop, deploy, and deliver software services on the Internet."

Like Microsoft, Sun expects businesses to continue to need some of their own IT infrastructure. Sun's data-center-in-a-box, Blackbox, is designed for companies that face massive computing requirements but aren't ready to shift all their infrastructure to the cloud. Similarly, Sun's Constellation groups together Sun Blade 6000 servers.

"The public clouds will be spillover points for enterprises," says Papadopoulos. "They'll be able to make a judgment. I may not like my crown-jewel data living in the cloud, but it'd be good to pull in another 1,000 nodes and do some work."

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