Sun eyes cloudware position

The open source vendor hopes OpenSolaris will be its entry point into becoming a platform provider for cloud computing by courting the developer community, say execs.

Sun Microsystems is gunning for the cloud space and eyeing, in particular, the position of being a platform provider.

Speaking at a media session Tuesday, Matt Thompson, senior director, developer cloud tools at Sun, said the company intends to be a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) provider, that is, to provide the underlying facilities supporting software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications.

This is distinguished from providing the infrastructure for the cloud such as data centers, which is a further basic layer in the cloud structure.

Thompson, four months into his role in Sun's cloud division, explained that the company had recently reshuffled to focus on the cloud space.

"The key to [succeeding in] the cloud computing business is to be a platform," he said.

He brought up Windows Azure as an example of a competitor eyeing the PaaS position. Azure is Microsoft's cloud-friendly version of its Windows OS, designed to run over the Internet from Microsoft's data centers.

Azure is positioned as an alternative platform for developers, allowing them to write programs outside of their business' servers.

Sun's OpenSolaris OS is also targeted toward the developer community, as a test bed for programs. "It will take more magic than [Azure] for Microsoft to be a platform provider though," Thompson said, adding that OpenSolaris was a better candidate because of added administrative tools, such as its ZFS filesystem.

Sun hopes OpenSolaris will be its entry point into the PaaS scene, by courting developers. Its Sun Tech Days conference is aimed at warming developers to the platform, by educating them on Sun's technology such as Java and Solaris.

"There is a demand for new developers to learn how to deploy apps through the cloud. And there is a huge demand for elastic compute power, even in large enterprises," said Thompson.

Jeff Jackson, senior vice president, Solaris Engineering, Sun, said: "A lot of financial institutions' IT departments will pay for a test bed to run a pilot outside of the network, if it is reliable. Small development firms too want to see if their apps will scale."

Jackson estimates there are some 250,000 registered OpenSolaris users, with "hundreds of thousands" active users.

He is targeting the number of registered users to go up to a million by the end of this year, with that number further multiplied next year, he said.

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