While the bulk of Sun-related news this week relates to reported talks of a buyout by IBM, the company took a break from negotiations to introduce their own cloud computing and storage infrastructure, challenging Amazon, Google, Rackspace, and perhaps VMware, Microsoft, and Nirvanix.
Sun is leveraging the assets they acquired from Q-layer earlier this year on top of OpenSolaris, MySQL, ZFS, and just about everything else in their arsenal to offer their own virtual data center (VDC) strategy. The Sun Cloud will be a private (inside the firewall) environment offering mobility of virtual machines. Q-layer had partnerships with both VMware and Microsoft and functioned with Windows, OpenSolaris, and Linux, suggesting that this will be quite a full-featured offering. Suddenly Sun’s free OpenSolaris offering on Amazon EC2 makes a lot more sense – it provides a gateway to take virtual computing business from the Bezos team!
One very nifty angle Sun is taking is enabling VirtualBox system images to be saved to (and presumably run in) their cloud. I wonder about monetization, since VirtualBox is more of a desktop virtualization system than VMware ESX and Microsoft Hyper-V, but the prospect of clicking “Upload to Cloud” is intriguing! OpenOffice will also allow cloud storage, a foil to Google Apps.
The Sun Cloud also includes a managed storage service. Sun apparently has three storage protocols: A proprietary Sun Cloud Storage API, WebDAV, and an object API likely leveraging Amazon’s AWS. The company claims that they are API-compatible with AWS, allowing applications written with Amazon in mind to be easily ported to their cloud storage service.
One key point to consider with all of this cloud talk, however, is how prepared each company is to support enterprise computing needs. Long-term viability depends on paying customers, and only the largest systems can attract enough end-user nickels and dimes to survive. Enterprise solutions are where the real money is, and questions remain about how prepared companies like Amazon, Google, and Rackspace are to support the needs of corporate users.
There are really three cloud markets: Shared clouds for small developers and enterprise customers and private cloud systems. Amazon was strong from the start with the little guys, Web 2.0 startups and end-user services like Jungle Disk, and Rackspace/Mosso and Google are challenging them in this space. Sun’s focus on AWS compatibility and VirtualBox suggests that they plan to play in this sandbox.
But the enterprise cloud is another matter entirely. Nirvanix stands strong in shared managed storage services, racking up win after win with big customers. EMC, VMware, Microsoft and others are positioning themselves as private alternatives in this space. Will Sun try to compete here, too? They are certainly talking about private clouds and the virtual data center, but there is a serious risk that they will lose focus trying to take on too many roles, and enterprise users won’t tolerate poor pre- and post-sales support!