Sun Revises Capacity on Demand

Sun’s Capacity on Demand 2.0 program extended to midrange servers

At Supercomputing 2002 held this week in Baltimore, Sun Microsystems Inc. introduced version 2.0 of its Capacity on Demand (COD) pay-as-you-go program.

COD allows Sun customers to install additional memory and processor resources in their Sun systems when purchased and defer paying full price until the resources are used. Sun first introduced Capacity on Demand 1.0 in 1999. The Unix kingpin’s initial revision of the program was available for its high-end Enterprise 10000 servers.

COD 2.0 is a different animal. It’s available for Sun’s current high-end servers—the Sun Fire 12K and 15K—as well as for its midrange servers, starting with the eight-way Sun Fire 3800. Sun says customers can immediately tap into COD 2.0 on its midrange systems. The revamped program won’t be available until January 2003 for its Sun Fire 12K and 15K servers, however.

COD 2.0 offers more granular pay-as-you-go options for Sun’s customers. Under COD 1.0, if a customer wanted to expand its capacity, it had to activate all of its additional processors at the same time. With COD 2.0, Sun indicates, customers can choose to activate individual processors one by one.

Under the terms of COD 2.0, customers pay a smaller upfront fee for additional processors or memory in their Sun systems. If they decide to activate these resources to increase the capacity or performance of their systems, they would then pay full price.

According to Robert Schafer, a program director with consultancy META Group, pay-as-you-go capacity programs help customers quickly provision new capacity as it is required. The classic example, he suggests, is the retailer that experiences a sharp uptick in sales during the Christmas shopping season. Rather than purchasing a new system, Schafer points out, the retailer could simply purchase additional processor or memory capacity.

Sun isn’t the only vendor that offers pay-as-you-go pricing of this kind, however. IBM Corp., Unisys Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., and others offer similar plans. Among major Unix vendors, Sun’s seminal COD program inaugurated the pay-as-you-go model.

Since that time, says Gordon Haff, an analyst with consultancy Illuminata, other Unix vendors—primarily HP—have matched or exceeded what Sun initially offered in COD 1.0. In this respect, Haff concedes, even COD 2.0 comes up short: “HP is probably closer to true utility computing where they can either add capacity or take away capacity. [In] Sun’s model, once you add capacity you can’t go back again.”

Under HP’s pay-as-you-go program, Haff points out, customers can purchase additional capacity as their workloads increase, but are free to revert to previous capacity levels when their workloads again become normalized. “The advantage of [HP’s utility model] is that it lets you deal with more periodic or short term increases in computing.“

Nevertheless, Haff anticipates COD 2.0 will probably be warmly received by Sun’s customers. “Sun’s approach, which gives [customers] more capacity over time, is still their predominant model. Utility computing is the vision, but it’s not something that a whole lot of customers have necessarily bought into yet.”

Sun Announces Fire Link

Also at Supercomputing 2002, Sun unveiled its long-awaited Fire Link Technology, a high-speed interconnect that can directly couple together as many as three Sun Fire servers. Using a backplane switch designed by Sun, as many as eight Sun Fire systems can be clustered.

Sun’s Fire Link Technology connects directly into the backplane of its Sun Fire systems and can facilitate up to 4.8 GBps of throughput.

Sun says that Fire Link is available for its high-end systems only, starting with its Sun Fire 6800, a 24-way server. Sun’s top-of-the-line system, the Sun Fire 15K, scales up to 106 processors. Sun also markets the 56-way Sun Fire 12K.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.