updated 2/1/2005 9:43:16 AM ET 2005-02-01T14:43:16

Sun Microsystems Inc. said Tuesday it will offer remote computing resources to business customers, allowing them to purchase computer time over a network as easily as they buy electricity and water through wires and pipes.

The Sun Grid will cost clients $1 an hour for each microprocessor used and $1 per month for each gigabyte of storage.  Customers will pay only for what they use when they use it, Sun said.

Grid computing is not new, but faster networks and new standards are making them easier for companies to outsource certain computing-intensive tasks to datacenters owned by others and not worry about the cost of the computers or paying for electricity and other support costs.

Sun said its grid now has 10,000 microprocessors powered up in datacenters in Texas, New Jersey, Virginia and Scotland, with more coming online later this year.  The server and software company is currently working with pilot customers in both the financial and oil industries, and it plans to make the service more widely available this spring.

International Business Machines Corp. has been selling remote computer services since 2003.  Al Bunshaft, IBM's vice president of sales and business development for grid computing, said the technology has helped many companies reduce costs.

By making a large number of computers available to solve a problem and distributing the workload, it can cut a task that once took months to a matter of days.  But it's not used in critical jobs such as transferring money to and from bank customers' accounts.  Those are still handled by mainframes owned by the banks.

"It's not a technology that everyone will be using in every enterprise in the next six months," Bunshaft said. "It is a technology that provides breakthrough value in some very specific areas."

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