Sun may bill itself as the network is the computer company, but its Sun Grid Compute Utility still isn't live. Amazon really does understand this however and they've just released the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud. It's a compute grid based on Xen. They provide some ready-made system images or you can build your own. The virtual machines you run have "provides the equivalent of a system with a 1.7Ghz Xeon CPU, 1.75GB of RAM, 160GB of local disk, and 250Mb/s of network bandwidth". The costs are entirely reasonable: only $0.10 per instance-hour consumed + network and storage via S3.
They provide command-line tools and a good walkthough. The nice thing about virtual machines is that they look like real machines:
07:47:24 up 6 min, 1 user, load average: 0.00, 0.03, 0.01
Linux domu-12-31-33-00-04-9c.usma1.compute.amazonaws.com 2.6.16-xenU #1 SMP Mon Aug 14 19:11:10 SAST 2006 i686 athlon i386 GNU/Linux
/proc/cpuinfo | egrep 'model name|cpu MHz'
model name : AMD Opteron(tm) Processor 250
cpu MHz : 2405.452
# free -m
total used free shared buffers cached
Mem: 1700 66 1633 0 3 22
-/+ buffers/cache: 41 1658
Swap: 0 0 0
# df -h
Filesystem Size Used Avail Use% Mounted on
/dev/sda1 9.9G 763M 8.6G 8%
none 851M 0 851M 0%
/dev/sda2 147G 189M 140G 1%
That's just one VM, but you can have many in your compute cloud (only up to 20 in beta). It's true what programmers say: any problem can be solved by adding a virtualised layer. Bring on the virtual machine revolution!
No, I'm not quite sure why they've abbreviated it to AC2 either. AECC has a certain ring to it...