Sun Debuts Galaxy Servers

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2005-09-12

Sun Debuts Galaxy Servers

This is why Sun Microsystems Inc. brought Andrew Bechtolsheim back.

Early last year, Bechtolsheim—a Sun co-founder who left the company in 1995—was leading Kealia Inc., a startup designing a new generation of servers based on Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s Opteron processor.

At the same time, Sun was embarking on a plan to create a family of Opteron-based servers.

Sun, of Santa Clara, Calif., bought Kealia in February 2004 and put Bechtolsheim in charge of developing its Opteron systems.

Read more here about Suns next Opteron servers.

The first two of the "Galaxy" systems—the one-socket Sun Fire X2100 and the two-socket X4200—will be rolled out this week at an event in New York, followed by more as the fiscal year unfolds, ranging from blade servers to eight-socket systems that, with the dual-core capabilities, essentially function as 16-way servers. The new systems announced this week will be 1U (1.75-inch) and 2U (3.5-inch) boxes.

"This is the first time Sun has sold enterprise-class [x86] systems—that have full, redundant, hot-swap fans, power, cooling, RAID on the motherboard, the lights-out management on the motherboard—so everything is standard," Bechtolsheim said in an interview with eWEEK.

Bechtolsheim and other Sun officials are hoping that the new Galaxy systems—which also feature more powerful Opteron processors and greater management capabilities—will help expand Suns presence in the competitive and lucrative x86 space.

Click here to read more about the future of AMDs Opteron chips.

Sun has seen rapid growth in sales of its current Opteron systems, the V20z and V40z, but the numbers relative to competitors are still small. According to numbers from Gartner Inc., of Stamford, Conn., Sun climbed into the No. 6 slot in the x86 server space last quarter, seeing almost 192 percent revenue growth.

Still, that was only good for a 1.84 percent market share, far behind leader Hewlett-Packard Co., with 34.23 percent market share. Dell Inc. and IBM also are key players in the space.

"Being the No. 6 maker might not seem big, but [just] 12 months ago, we were like a footnote," said John Fowler, executive vice president of Suns Network Systems Group.

Next Page: The Opteron advantage.

The Opteron Advantage

A key differentiator in the new Sun systems will be the faster Opteron processors, Bechtolsheim said. AMD has designed Opteron models that run faster and consume more power than the current line of chips, he said.

The higher power consumption—about 120 watts, compared with 95 watts—was necessary to ramp up the frequency to 2.4GHz.

The chips are early versions of the upcoming x80 Opteron series due later this quarter, said Ben Williams, vice president of AMDs commercial business, in Sunnyvale, Calif.

When AMD launches the chips, they will initially be available at the higher frequency but within the current 95-watt power envelope.

Bechtolsheim said that despite the higher wattage, the Opterons in the Galaxy systems will still hold an advantage over Intel Corp.-based servers.

"Opteron already is twice as power-efficient as Intels [chips], and you get more than twice the throughput for the same power consumption as Intel, so were really ahead," Bechtolsheim said. "If customers are concerned about power, the only solution that makes sense is dual-core Opteron."

Sun also is making improvements in the management of the servers. On the systems themselves, the company is offering remote Web monitoring and KVM (keyboard, video and mouse) capabilities.

Sun also is rolling out the N1 System Manager feature, which offers auto-discovery, configuration and health monitoring from a single console that can support both Opteron and SPARC systems, Fowler said.

In addition, enhancements to Suns N1 Service Provisioning System can automatically deploy Web services and implement policies on the systems. All Galaxy servers also will have the same basic hardware makeup, something that Sun will extend to the upcoming SPARC systems next year.

Now that Sun is offering a broad range of server platforms that run Solaris, Linux and Windows, the key will be the management capabilities going forward, said Chuck Sears, manager of research computing for the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University. Sears runs both SPARC- and Opteron-based systems and will evaluate the upcoming Galaxy systems.

Suns push into the enterprise with Opteron systems "is a really interesting move," said Sears in Corvallis.

"What happens is [in recent years] there has been an onslaught of tasks. Before, wed always buy a box or two and set the task with what the industry provided us. ... Im looking forward to the next six to 18 months as [the Galaxy systems] work their way in. Now we finally have the opportunity to buy solutions [rather than simply boxes]. Now it comes back to the management solutions."

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