In the high-end Unix server market, size matters, and market leader Sun Microsystems Inc. today unveiled its biggest, most powerful system to date, the 106-processor Sun Fire 15K.
Designed to handle massive amounts of transactions or computations simultaneously, the Palo Alto, Calif., company is touting the server not only as the successor to its top-end E10000, but as a potential replacement for smaller mainframe systems as well, posing a potential threat to its top rival, IBM.
The Sun Fire 15K, powered by the companys newest microprocessor, a 900MHz UltraSparc III, is being offered in several configurations: from a 16-way priced at about $1.4 million, to a 72-way targeted at businesses that will sell for more than $4 million, all the way up to the 106-CPU version designed for research facilities that will cost about $10 million.
In addition to offering tremendous computing power in a single platform, the Sun Fire 15K can be divided into as many as 18 virtually independent systems, according to Sun, which data centers could leverage to reduce their reliance on multiple mainframes.
"The Sun Fire 15K offers customers a clear choice to improve their productivity while reducing cost of ownership and regaining control of their data centers," said John Shoemaker, executive vice president of computer systems at Sun.
Sun hopes to expand the market for the Sun Fire 15K by getting data center managers to consider buying a single high-end server instead of multiple systems.
"What we see here with partitioning is that high-end Unix servers may not only exist with mainframes in data centers, but theres this notion that they can tackle the work running on those mainframes as well," said Jean Bozman, a researcher for International Data Corp., in Mountain View, Calif. "Sun is definitely targeting IBM mainframe sites that are looking at potentially reducing their number of systems."
According to IDC, Sun last year was the top high-end Unix server vendor, based on revenue, with 47.1 percent of the market worldwide. IBM was second with 18.8 percent, and Hewlett-Packard Co., of Palo Alto, Calif., was third with 11.4 percent.
But IBM was No. 1 in overall server revenue worldwide, garnering 26 percent of the market, according to the latest quarterly numbers released this month by IDC. Sun came in second with a 16.5 percent share.
Next week, IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., will launch its own assault on the high-end server market with a new 32-way system, code-named Regatta, that will feature its newest microprocessor architecture, the Power4. It also will feature several technological advances designed to boost server uptime by enabling the system to recognize and fix problems without human intervention.
The Sun Fire 15K, code-named Starcat, takes over as the companys flagship system, succeeding the highly successful 64-way E10000, introduced four years ago.
Despite its $1 million-plus price tag, Sun sold more than 5,000 of the servers, which were based on a design acquired from Cray Research Inc. in 1996.
Sun President and Chief Operating Officer Ed Zander and other Sun executives at a press conference in New York this morning said that with the new server, they have several years over the competition, primarily IBM.
"Were going to set whole new standards for price/performance," Zander said, stressing the new servers compatibility with the entire Sun product line.
The Sun Fire 15K will deliver up to five times the performance of its predecessor, according to Sun executives, and features a variety of additional enhancements and capabilities.
Among the system features:
--The largest memory in a single system—576GB.
--Four petabytes of disk storage.
--Three "switchboards" at the heart of the system that provide dedicated high-speed data paths between vital system components.
--100 percent component redundancy for highest availability.
--The ability to handle CPUs of different speeds in the same system.
The servers expansive capabilities make it well-suited for research work, according to Mike Vildibill, deputy director of resources for the San Diego Supercomputer Center, one of the first customers to use the Sun Fire 15K server. The center is at the University of California in San Diego.
"The Sun Fire offers the performance needed to support our data-intensive requirements ranging from storage management, relational databases, data mining and data-intensive scientific applications such as those in bioinformatics," Vildibill said. "The combination of reliability and performance makes the Sun Fire a critical component to our IT infrastructure."
Other customers that reportedly have signed contracts to receive the Sun Fire 15K include Boeing Co., GE Capital and Seiko Epson Corp.
Sun also announced at todays press conference that it has bought Critical Path Inc.s mainframe rehosting business, which -- combined with Suns Solaris operating system -- will cut operational costs for businesses by enabling them to migrate from legacy mainframes to Sun servers while preserving existing CICS applications.