Sun Fires Up Server Lineup with Intel Processors

Sun Microsystems is adding more Intel processors into its server lineup, which will help bolster Sun's infrastructure system offerings for back-office applications, such as database and high-performance computing apps. Since signing a new agreement with Intel in 2007, Sun has now released a total of eight servers based on Intel processors.

Sun Microsystems is looking to round out its server portfolio with new systems based on Intel processors and designed for high-performance computing and back-office applications such as databases.

At the start of the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco Aug. 19, Sun will introduce a pair of servers that use Intel Xeon processors from the 5200 and 5400 series. After signing an agreement with Intel in 2007, Sun has slowly begun to push more systems into the market that use Xeon processors to help round out its offerings, which included its own SPARC chips and processors from Advanced Micro Devices. Sun now has a total of eight systems based on Intel processors.

The two new Intel-based Sun systems include the Sun Fire X2250, which is geared toward the HPC field, and the Sun Fire X4250, which Sun describes as a back-end server that can handle significant workloads such as database applications. Of the two systems, the Sun Fire X2250 is more important to Sun's overall business as the company looks to offer more hardware that can handle HPC, which in turn can support cloud computing infrastructures, Web 2.0 applications and financial services workloads.

While Sun for years used AMD's Opteron processors for its line of servers based on x86 microarchitecture, Brian Huynh, a Sun product manager, said Intel has made some significant strides in improving its Xeon processors to handle floating point calculations and has also increased the capabilities of its chips' front side bus to handle HPC workloads.

"Our customers have been asking us for an Intel-based server for HPC that has the 'Harpertown' CPU for a long time now," Huynh said. "We have been making AMD-based servers for a long time now. We knocked on every door that we could for customers that love AMD. There were just so many customers that were entrenched with Intel that we couldn't overcome those objections. We decided to mature as a vendor and offer Intel."

At the same time, Sun is also looking to reinvigorate its server lineup after some disappointing sales in the last quarter. Its main channel partner reports shipments of Sun servers and AMD were off, especially in Asia.

Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT Research, said Sun's lack of x86 systems has hurt the company in the long term and that adding more x86-based servers to the lineup now might not help the Sun overcome its current financial situation.

King said he does feel that Sun could compete against some of IBM's offerings, such as the iDataPlex array, when it comes to building cloud computing infrastructures.

"There is a growing interest in cloud computing and the likelihood that it will catch on seems pretty strong right now," King said. "Sun is looking to find a home for its systems in this market and is trying to innovate where it can. However, it's not a sure thing and the cloud computing market remains a work in progress."

The Sun Fire X2250 for the HPC market is a 1U (1.75-inch) rack-mount system that supports two quad-core Intel 5400 Xeon processors. The system also supports up to 32GB of memory and up to 2TB of data storage thanks to a pair of SATA (Serial ATA) bays. The system also supports two Intel Gigabit Ethernet NICs (network interface cards).

The Sun Fire X4250, which is for back-end applications, is a 2U (3.5-inch) system that supports two Intel dual-core Xeon 5200 or quad-core Xeon 5400 series processors. This server holds up to 64GB of memory and has 16 SAS (serial-attached SCSI) drives. This system also includes two Intel Gigabit Ethernet NICs.

The Sun Fire X2250 and the X4250 are both available from Sun as of Aug. 19.