Sun Latches on to AMD Opteron 'Barcelona'

Sun Microsystems is the latest OEM to add AMD's quad-core Opteron chips to its server portfolio.

Sun Microsystems is now the latest vendor to use Advanced Micro Devices' quad-core Opteron chips in its rack-mount server and blade portfolios.

Sun is offering eight systems that take advantage of the quad-core Opteron processors formerly code-named Barcelona. The one blade and seven rack-mount systems that are being released May 13 are part of Sun's x64 (x86, 64-bit) line of servers.

The launch includes four rack-mount systems and one blade-the Sun Blade x8440-that have been upgraded to support both dual- and quad-core Opteron processors, along with three systems-the Sun Fire x4140, x4240 and the x4440-that are new to the company's system portfolio.

Sun now joins Hewlett-Packard and Dell, the other top-tier vendors offering commercial systems built around AMD's Opteron chip, which suffered from a series of delays related to a design flaw in the silicon that the chip maker disclosed in late 2007. However, Sun did complete its new supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center in February using an older version of the quad-core Opteron chip.

David Simmons, senior product line director for Sun's x64 servers and workstations, said Sun wanted to ensure that it would be able to ship its new and updated servers in volume to customers and that AMD was manufacturing enough chips to achieve those numbers. Simmons added that Sun would offer the full range of Opteron processors, including the 55-watt models that AMD officially released May 12.

IBM and Fujitsu Siemens Computers are also expected to offer new AMD-based systems within the next two months.

Virtualization driving reliability and capacity

In addition to revamping some existing systems, Sun is adding the three new systems to its portfolio to address what Simmons called memory-intensive applications, such as database software, online storage and virtualization.

"As customers are turning more and more to virtualized machines, they are looking for reliability and capacity, and these systems have been optimized for larger applications and for virtual machines that require large amount of memory," Simmons said.

The 1U (1.75-inch) Sun Fire X4140 and the 2U x4240 (3.5-inch) each support one or two of AMD's quad-core Opterons and have 16 DIMM (dual in-line memory module) slots that can support up to 64GB of RAM. The 2U Sun Fire x4440 supports four quad-core processors and up to 128GB of RAM.

The x4140 and the x4440 support eight SAS (serial-attached SCSI) drives, while the x4220 supports up to 16 SAS drives. Since these Sun systems are based on x86 processors, the servers can support Microsoft Windows, Solaris 10, and SUSE and Red Hat Linux.

Besides these three systems, Sun is also updating its Sun Fire x2200, x4100, x4200 and x4600 and the Sun Blade x8440 to work with AMD's quad-core processors.

While Sun produces its own line of chips called UltraSPARC, its embrace of x86 processors in the last few years has helped Sun as it suffered losses to vendors such as IBM in the high end of the market.

Although Sun's server revenue dropped 1.8 percent to $1.47 billion during its latest fiscal quarter, the company's shipments of both Intel- and AMD-based systems have increased. During the same quarter, its x64 shipments increased 26 percent.

All of the systems except the Sun Blade x8440 and the Sun Fire x4600 are shipping now. The Sun Blade and the x4600 rack-mount system will ship by the end of this quarter. The prices for the systems range from $2,250 for the Sun Fire x4100 to $14,126 for the Sun Blade x8440.