The unit was formed a year ago and has been operating in stealth mode until it was closer to announcing its services, said David Douglas, senior VP of Sun Microsystems Cloud Computing.
CTO of the unit is Lew Tucker, a former Sun JavaSoft employee who left Sun to build the AppExchange application marketplace at Salesforce.com. Salesforce customers customize or build their own online applications on the Salesforce platform, then offer them for sale on AppExchange.
Douglas and Tucker described how Sun could enter cloud computing Dec. 9 in a "chalk talk" or background information briefing to a small group of analysts and journalists at the San Francisco offices of Sun's public relations agency, Bite Communications. Sun previously has held chalk talks in its own rented offices nearby on Howard Street.
Sun's approach to cloud computing will seek to implement "one service fits all," where customers may use a credit card to initiate compute cycle service, said Douglas. A Sun cloud will allow users to self-provision 100 servers or any number needed, while charging for use by the hour, he said.
"Self-provisioning is very underrated by IT. I think IT managers a few years ago thought it was weird that someone would pick up a phone and get an application provisioned to run on a server. Self-provisioning in a matter of seconds or minutes fundamentally represents a profound change," he noted.
A Sun cloud will also seek to offer "elasticity," or the ability to expand to meet the demand for service, "then shrink back down," as needed, Douglas said.
He also foresaw a Sun cloud interacting with or supplementing a cloud inside the enterprise to form "hybrid" services between two different types of clouds.
Sun has the xVM virtualization hypervisor on which to base cloud services, he noted. The Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud runs applications that have been pre-formatted as Amazon Machine Images, a virtual machine format based on the open source Xen hypervisor. Tucker said a Sun cloud, based on xVM, also a version of Xen, would be viable, or would be able to convert incoming VM files from a Microsoft or VMware format into its own format.
Sun sees clouds evolving along domain lines where a particular cloud might focus on running health care services, another analytic services, another consumer Web services, he said. But neither spokesman committed Sun to supply specific services within a specific timeframe.
They acknowledged Sun is phasing out a predecessor service, Sun Network.com, which was intended to supply by-the-hour compute cycles through Sun's data centers. The service introduced in 2006 gained a handful of customers but didn't take hold on the scale sought, and Sun will seek to transition customers to its new cloud services as they become available.
"Watch this space" in 2009, Douglas advised.
For more insight into the forces shaping cloud computing, InformationWeek has published an independent analysis of the topic. Download the report here (registration required).