Sun Revs Up Grid Engine Server

Along with its long-awaited UltraSparc III microprocessor, and the first computers to use it, Sun Microsystems last week released free software that could result in some customers buying fewer of the new systems.

Sun's Grid Engine server software lets compute-intensive jobs, such as simulations, run over up to hundreds of otherwise idle processors on a network.

Grid Engine was developed by Gridware Inc., a company Sun acquired in July. The software has a load-balancing algorithm that matches the jobs to be done with available processors and queues up job requests based on priorities. A graphical user interface lets administrators view reports on users and the status of the jobs.

Grid Engine (available for download at www.sun.com/ software/gridware/) will be loaded on all Sun workstations, including the Sun Blade 1000 line of UltraSparc III computers announced last week.

Sun will also incorporate the software as part of its Sun Technical Compute Farm, a rack-mounted set of Sun servers designed to act as a single, high-performance computer. Sun engineers are porting the software to operating systems other than its own Solaris and will be working with software vendors to embed Grid Engine APIs into their applications, which will then be able to participate in the job assignments. Finally, Sun will create an open source license for Grid Engine to foster wider adoption and ongoing improvements.

"The Grid software is interesting," says Toni Sacconaghi, a research analyst at Sanford C. Berstein, a New York investment research company. "If you're currently using only about 60% of your compute resources, this software can boost that to 80% or 90%, according to Sun. But will that have an effect on demand for Sun's [hardware]? That's hard to say right now."

Grid Engine is touted as part of Sun's Net Effect Strategy, also unveiled last week at an event hosted by Sun President Ed Zander. The strategy is to deliver computers and software that can handle the flood of digital information flowing in and out of computers on high-speed networks.

The 64-bit UltraSparc III chip, delayed almost two years because of its complexities, is not only faster than the UltraSparc II: It's faster in particular ways - the speed at which it can move data to disk drives, memory chips, other UltraSparc III processors and the network.

The chip will appear in a new server line later this year. The first member of that line will be the Sun Fire 280R, a rack-mounted device for data centers and service providers. It can include one or two UltraSparc III 750-MHz CPUs, dual power supplies and disk drives, a 10/100Base-T Ethernet port, and Sun software for systems recovery and remote management. Pricing will start at $US10,000.

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