Comparing Sun’s Grid to IBM’s Grid

We did it! The grid is live!

I have to admit it was fun throwing a big switch to “light it up” (although I did ask the techs on stage about 10 times if there was live current going through the props we used – the answer was no, thankfully). We’re well on our way to building out a global grid, with partners across the world, to make the network service called “computing” as ubiquitous, and affordable, as electricity. Ditto for storage.

Our view is that many suppliers in the technology industry have relied on mass inefficiencies and opacity to drive short term profits – why bother delivering a computing service if you can custom build a grid for each customer and sell 10X the infrastructure? To us, that sounds like betting against the network – a bad move for any market. So what we introduced was simple – an opportunity for any customer needing a computing or storage grid to leverage ours for a simple, transparent price: $1/cpu-hr, or $1/GB-mo.

Having read a lot of the coverage and commentary, there’s definitely a population of folks on one end of the spectrum saying “Are you nuts? Why would I pay $1/GB-mo if I can buy an iPod and tote it everywhere?” To those folks, let me safely say, You are not our target audience. To the crowd that did the math for their enterprise archiving installations, and figured they’re paying quite a bit more than $1/GB-mo, help is on the way.

Now what was especially gratifying was seeing all the coverage in the press. IBM took the bait to start a discussion on price. Remember, in the commodity world, it’s all about price and transparency – that’s at the heart of an efficient market. Now we’re playing on our terms.

IBM has relied on a broad portfolio of products to make competition tough for companies that lack their breadth – IBM Global Services in particular specializes in complex outsourcing contracts, where the price of any individual line item – say, the price of a server for a year – is nearly impossible to divine. By design. My view has been transparency is therefore our competitive weapon – make the price transparent, and presuming they’re forced to follow, they’ll get dragged into a discussion on price. Drive the discussion to standard offerings, and they’ll have to play defense.

One journalist I spoke with said, “IBM said their offering is only 48 cents.” I responded, “And did you ask IBM what you get for that?” The journalist said, “IBM said ‘it depends.'” Sorry, that’s opaque pricing, not transparent. Another journalist said, “IBM said you can’t specify a single price, because every customer wants something different.” Maybe so, but then we’re not talking about a utility service – utilities rely on the ability to aggregate demand with a standard offering, not one offs. If you wanted something other than water from the taps in your house, the utility company providing your water would say “sorry, we’re not interested in your business.” Utilities aggregate demand. Aggregation isn’t possible without standards and uniformity.

We’re well aware that grids are inappropriate for many of today’s applications or customer environments. But there’s a broad market of workloads that are right in our crosshairs, from risk analysis to movie rendering, data warehousing to reservoir simulation. We understand full well that this represents a very small portion of today’s computing needs. But we also know that’s where the network’s headed – that more traditional apps are spilling into the grid, and the market’s growing.

So in the spirit of giving IBM an opportunity to respond with greater clarity, here’s a table presenting what $1/cpu-hr buys you from Sun.

Sam, we hereby invite you to fill in the blanks:

Comparing Sun’s and IBM’s Grid Utility Pricing

Elements Sun’s Grid IBM’s Grid
Industry Standard Server V20Z Opteron (2.4 GHz),
RAM per CPU 4 Gig
Cache storage per CPU 20 Gig
Operating System Solaris 10
Is OS open source? Yes
Is OS Protected by ALL* corporate patents? Yes
Minimum Commitment 4 hrs.
Price per hour $1 US

* Not a subset, but all patents related to and covering operating systems (do not include unrelated patent chaff).

We’re definitely interested in IBM’s response – and something tells me customers are going to be mighty interested in how IBM fills in the blanks, as well.

Let’s start counting the days until they respond. After all, it’s all about transparency.

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