Sun Woos Blade Customers

The company rolls out the X8420 and Sun Refresh Service.

Sun Microsystems is looking to grow its foothold in the highly competitive blade market and entice new and current customers to stay with its products by offering a unique hardware replacement and upgrade service.

The Santa Clara, Calif., OEM Jan. 9 rolled out its latest blade offering, the Sun Blade X8420, and detailed a new service that will offer its Sun Blade 8000 customers an annual program aimed at making it easier to upgrade a data centers hardware equipment.

The Sun Refresh Service is a subscription program that the company will include with the installation of its Sun Blade 8000 Series servers. For $23,000 a month, customers will be eligible for up to three hardware upgrades during the three-and-one-half years of the contract.

"What we have is a program that pretty much breaks some basic truisms that have been out there in the computer industry," said Michael McNerney, director of Suns blade server product line. "We dont see this anywhere else. This is not about how people think about traditional computer buying with a traditional depreciation or leasing cycle."

The program is being marketed to customers in HPC (high-performance computing) markets, such as Web-based businesses with highly dynamic infrastructures where software costs outweigh those of hardware, and where getting the best performance out of a server is critical, McNerney said.

Sun was one of the first OEMs to offer blade servers in 2003 and joined a market that included rivals such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Dell. After some technological problems with its first set of blade offerings, Sun dropped out of the market for most of 2005 but jumped back in last year with its Sun Blades.

According to recent re--ports by IDC and Gartner, the server market increased by more than 9 percent in the third quarter of 2006, and the growth was led, in part, by an increased demand for blades. Although Sun showed respectable growth in the quarter, the blade market was dominated by IBM, which held 42.3 percent of the market, and HP, with 35 percent, according to IDC.

Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT Research, said that after its initial start in and then withdrawal from the blade market, Sun now appears to be making a comeback with its Sun Blade line, which, like its family of "Galaxy" x86 servers, is based on Advanced Micro Devices Opteron chips. More intriguing for King is the service offering, which he said is a sign of Sun returning to its innovative roots.

"What you have is a vendor that is coming up with a workable blade architecture and a server module that will be able to sustain multiple modules," King said.