Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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3/18/2009
09:52 AM
David Berlind
David Berlind
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Podcast: Sun's Cloud To RESTfully Give Developers Access To Virtual Data Centers

The Web is brewing with analysis of the news that IBM is in talks to buy Sun. Most of it covers the sensibility of IBM buying into Sun's existing businesses and customers. But, should IBM acquire Sun, it will also get a portfolio of cloud offerings that are being announced later today at Sun's CommunityOne East Developer Conference in New York. Given the traction that cloud computing is getting and how IBM isn't viewed as a cloud player (by a long shot), an acquisition of Sun would instantly put

The Web is brewing with analysis of the news that IBM is in talks to buy Sun. Most of it covers the sensibility of IBM buying into Sun's existing businesses and customers. But, should IBM acquire Sun, it will also get a portfolio of cloud offerings that are being announced later today at Sun's CommunityOne East Developer Conference in New York. Given the traction that cloud computing is getting and how IBM isn't viewed as a cloud player (by a long shot), an acquisition of Sun would instantly put IBM in the game against the likes of Amazon and Google with a new offering that actually packs quite a punch.It didn't take a rocket scientist to do the math. It's been known for quite some time that Sun was planning to make its cloud announcements at today's developer conference in New York. Clearly, there would be a developer angle to those announcements and sure enough, that is the case. Not that this is unusual. Pretty much every cloud offering in the market -- particularly the ones that offer Infrastructure (server CPU time, storage) as as Service (IaaS) -- is invokable through application programming interfaces that are invoked by developers.

But, what makes Sun's offering (the gory details of which can be found on its Project Kenai Web site) special is the way in which it tucked an entire virtual datacenter (including the option of having firewalls, clusters, databases, etc.) behind a RESTful interface where simple GETs and POSTs result in an extraordinary amount of heavy lifting.

By pressing the tiny play button here you can listen to my podcast interview with the vice president of marketing for Sun's Cloud Computing Group Juan Carlos Soto regarding today's announcement.

If you lift up the hood on what Sun has done with its API, you can see how Sun has in some ways intersected the idea of the "read/write Web" with cloud computing. Sun's director of Web technologies Tim Bray has been actively involved in Atom standards for the read/write Web (a.k.a. The Atom Publishing Protocol or AtomPub) and according to him, his work in that area ultimately helped to inform the RESTful architecture behind the Sun Cloud.

Via basic Web GETing and POSTing, the Sun Cloud returns to developers everything that's needed to work the knobs and levers of their virtual data center in JSON structures. For example, in this basic "Hello Cloud" sammple on the Project Kenai Web site, you can see how a simple HTTP GET results in the creation of a virtual datacenter that includes a cluster (into which one or more virtual machines can be loaded), a firewall, a private network, and a public IP address, the handles to all of which are returned via a JSON structure.

You don't necesarily have to be a developer to understand the elegance of what Sun has done here. The key is that Sun has put all of the tools to bring up, provision, and tear down a full-blown virtual datacenter with little more than than Web URI representation.

Another key part of the announcement is that Sun is essentially open sourcing the entire specification using a Creative Commons license. By opening the specification up, Sun's hope is that other cloud providers will make their resources available through the same RESTful syntax. Should other cloud providers (for example, Amazon) embrace Sun's specification, it could pave the way towards greater interoperation between clouds from different providers. Cloud interop is routinely listed as one of the biggest concerns among organizations that are considering moving some or most of their IT into the cloud. Whether or not other key cloud players embrace Sun's open cloud specification remains to be seen.

Whether de facto or de jure, such "open standards" are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they're very beneficial to users and buyers and subscribers of/to technology and, in this case, services. On the other, they dramatically lower the barrier to switching technology providers -- something that competing cloud providers like Amazon may not be keen to allowing (at least so easily).

According to Soto, you can expect all the common operating systems (Linux, Windows, and of course Solaris) to be supported in Sun's cloud. But he was also clear that Sun's cloud will not be limited to Intel-based compute cycles and that for certain customers that require it, Sun will offer AMD and -- are you ready for this? -- SPARC in the cloud as well.

David Berlind is an editor-at-large with InformationWeek. David likes to write about emerging tech, new and social media, mobile tech, and things that go wrong. He can be reached at dberlind@techweb.com and you also can find him on Twitter and other social networks (see the list below). David doesn't own any tech stocks. But, if he did, he'd probably buy some Salesforce.com and Amazon, given his belief in the principles of cloud computing and his hope that the stock market can't get much worse. Also, if you're an out-of-work IT professional or someone involved in the business of compliance, he wants to hear from you.

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