Sun to Roll Out Opteron, Niagara Blades for Telecom

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2006-03-13

Sun to Roll Out Opteron, Niagara Blades for Telecom

For its telecommunications customers, Sun Microsystems is planning to roll out blade servers powered by Advanced Micro Devices Opteron chips and Suns own UltraSPARC T1 processors.

In an interview at the companys Santa Clara, Calif., headquarters, David Yen, executive vice president of Suns Scalable Systems Group, said the Opteron-based Netra server will launch in the second quarter of 2006, followed by the T1 system in the second half of the year.

The moves highlight Suns push to expand its product portfolio, offering more choices to its customers and enabling it to bid on business that traditionally it could not have.

"We basically want to make sure that all the ground is covered," Yen said.

Both the Opteron-based Galaxy systems and the servers powered by the T1 chip—formerly code-named "Niagara"—are key parts in Suns push to broaden its offerings after years of focusing primarily on its SPARC/Solaris platform.

Click here for a sample blade server RFP from eWEEK Labs.

Sun will launch a blade server and eight-socket system running on the Opteron chip when AMD, of Sunnyvale, Calif., rolls out its next Rev F line of processors in the middle of the year. The Opteron-based Netra systems will be added to the lineup of SPARC-based servers Sun offers the telecom industry.

Netra servers are NEBS 3 (Network Equipment-Building System 3)-compliant to handle hostile environments, and in addition the new systems will be based on ACTA (Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture), a series of specifications aimed at taking advantage of the latest high-speed Internet technology and next-generation processor design.

Yen said that while Sun will offer a telecommunications blade server powered by the T1 chip, company officials have yet to decide whether to roll out a general-purpose T1 blade.

"Blade is really designed for the x86 space," Yen said. "On the RISC side and Unix side, a lot of the [customer] investment is in vertical infrastructures, in SMPs [symmetric multiprocessing]."

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However, Sun may decide to pursue a T1-based general-purpose blade server if customer demand is high enough, he said.

IBM and Hewlett-Packard are the leaders in a blade server market that analyst firm IDC, of Framingham, Mass., said it expects to grow to $10 billion by 2009. Both have broadened their offerings. HP offers systems running on Opterons as well as Intels Xeon and high-end Itanium chips; IBM has blades running on Opteron, Xeon and its own Power chip.

Later this year IBM also will include a blade server powered by the new Cell processor, which it co-developed with Sony and Toshiba. IBM demonstrated the Cell-based blade at the CeBIT show in Germany the week of March 6.

Next Page: Suns biggest growth may come from Opteron.

Suns Biggest Growth May

Come from Opteron">

Suns T1, with its eight cores and 65-watt power envelope, would seem a natural fit in a bladed environment, but Yen said Sun officials decided to focus on the Opteron blades first.

A decision on whether to make a T1 blade will be made later.

Suns multipronged server push includes not only the Opteron and Niagara platforms, but later this year the company and partner Fujitsu will roll out the first of the Advanced Product Line systems, a jointly developed server family that will be based on Fujitsus upcoming dual-core SPARC64 chip and will replace Suns Sun Fire and Fujitsus PrimePower product lines.

However, Sun officials said they see the Opteron and Niagara platforms as the key differentiators in the highly competitive server space. Sun and HP currently are the only top-tier OEMs with extensive Opteron-based product lines.

The Niagara architecture, with eight cores running up to four threads each, is aimed at giving users maximum throughput without cranking up the power consumption or heat generation.

Sun plans to tape out the next generation—Niagara II—by the end of the year. Sun officials said the chip will offer greater throughput and floating point capabilities than the current version.

However, Martin Kariithi, an analyst with Technology Business Research, in Hampton, N.H., said Sun will see its greatest growth in the Opteron-based servers as the industry continues to move to x86 systems.

"The margins are lower [for Opteron-based systems] than [in] the T1 business, but the volumes are much higher," Kariithi said. "The T1 line is very shaky. Theyre hoping to get some of the Itanium business … but Im seeing the x86 cannibalization of the T1 line."

Enterprises are either buying large mainframe systems or smaller x86 systems, he said, and "the midmarket is really declining … Intel is seeing the same thing with Itanium. Its a dicey market."

Sun says its UltraSPARC T1 CPU is high-speed and eco-friendly. Read more here.

Sun has seen a lot of growth in its x86 business. In the first quarter of Suns fiscal 2006, shipments of its x86 systems grew 109 percent over the previous first quarter. The company saw a 93 percent year-over-year jump—to almost 20,000—in x86 system shipments in the second quarter.

John Fowler, executive vice president of Suns Network Systems Group, which owns the Opteron line, said Sun knew it made the right choice when it went with AMD over Intel in 2004, but that he and others were surprised at AMDs momentum in the market.

"We didnt expect AMD to get to where they are as quickly as they did," Fowler said in an interview. "We dont have to answer the AMD question anymore."

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