Sun has taken inspiration from the Everything's a Pound stores with its new grid computing service, offering resources at the rate of $1 per CPU per hour, and storage at $1 per gigabyte per month.

Speaking at the company's California headquarters, Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz introduced the new products by literally flipping a giant switch and pronounced: "This is the unveiling of the Sun Grid."

The move toward grid computing will involve not just a shift in technologies but also attitudes as companies begin to pay for usage of computers rather than for computers themselves, the company prophesised. It is a move that consumers - who are comfortable having websites like Google perform computational tasks for them - have already made, Schwartz said.

"Consumers have already gotten there," he said. "They're already using somebody else's infrastructure. The laggards in the industry are the enterprise."

If enterprises have been slow to adopt Sun's utility computing concept it is not for lack of exposure. Sun has been pitching the concept since the mid 1990s, when executives referred to it as the "Web tone", playing on the idea of a telephone dial tone.

But even though the metaphorical grid switch was flipped on Tuesday, most customers will have to wait for months until they can actually try out Sun's new grid products.

Sun had initially expected to offer it's $1-per-CPU program before the end of March, but it is currently available only in limited trials, with general availability planned for May.

Schwartz hinted that Sun's computing resources might one day be exchanged in much the same way that commodities like oil or electricity are traded today. "Wouldn't it be interesting if some of the more far-sited exchanges began thinking about creating a computing exchange," he said.

Sun also introduced a new line of Java System software suites that the company says are designed to serve the needs of smaller customers better than its monolithic Java Enterprise System. Available for $50 per employee, the suites are designed for a variety of IT tasks, including identity management, system availability and infrastructure and communications.