The network is the computer

With apologies to Sun for the title of this brief post. A few services have caught my eye recently, along with rumours that both Google and Microsoft will be entering this space in the future as well.

Actually, the first is pretty unique. Sun has created a supercomputer for hire, located at the gold address network.com. I don’t really know much about what Sun gets up to these days, but their (now) CEO does a great job of evangelising their product; he’s obviously greatly passionate about his job, which gives me confidence in their ability to succeed. Jonathan Schwartz’s [introduction to the Sun Grid] covers everything I, at least, need to know. With a browser and credit card, you too can leverage the power of a whole bunch of computers. So that’s exciting from a tech point of view.

Moving on to slightly related territory: internet based storage. The first I heard about (besides Apple’s .Mac, which I’ll come back to) was Amazon S3; this product has similarly great marketing that it feels like the company is revolutionising the way people will behave towards data. The premise is simple: with some tech and a credit card, you can store essentially as much data as you like on Amazon’s servers. And it sounds damn cheap: $0.20 per GB of data transferred, $0.15 per GB per month of data stored. Not only that, but it god-damn supports BitTorrent for distributing the stuff you put up there. Fancy.

More recently, I came across Box.net, which sounds fairly similar, if targeted slightly differently. S3 is aimed more at commercial use, I gather, whereas the Box is oriented towards consumers, backup, and syncing. And it’s also cheap: the FREE account allows 1 GB of stored data with a file size limit of 10 MB (that’s more of a problem), with 5 GB available for $50 per year and 15 GB for $100/yr. (All the prices I mention are in American currency, by the way.)

Amazon’s service is cheaper, but Box.net’s approach probably makes it more useful for a regular user. Amazon’s tech, frankly, also looks more impressive.

But this is all interesting to me because it occurred to me that Apple has provided for all of this type of thing in the form of .Mac for years now. They are now obviously hopelessly out of their league with regards to pricing and performance (.Mac altogether is $100 per year for 1 GB of data with another $100 increasing that to a measly 4 GB; granted you get more your money than just online storage), but you’ve really got to give Apple credit for being so far ahead here. It would be really great if they ended up partnering with one of the big guns to develop .Mac into a really solid and cost-effective solution, but it looks like Apple’s happy enough satisfying rich consumers.

All in all, things are starting to look pretty interesting as bandwidth becomes ubiquitous enough to consider offline storage of GBs worth of data. I know it fully solves the problems that John Siracusa discusses about data integrity and the concern about eventual hard drive failure in something like an iMac:

My sister’s iMac, like many Macs today, is a victim of its own success. Her Mac has made creating and organizing digital content so easy that it now contains gigabytes of the stuff. I often find myself thinking ominously about the consequences of a catastrophic hard drive failure in her now almost three-year-old iMac. All those photos, all those movies, just…gone. Poof!

On the other hand, if Apple say were to start shipping cheap enough home servers with enough space for redundant backup and internet access, would services such as Box.net be all that necessary?