Sun Launches New Blade Architecture

Sun is after a bigger piece of the blade business HP and IBM dominate, with new AMD, Intel and its own SPARC systems.

Sun Microsystems is after a larger piece of the blade space with a new line of systems that will offer three choices of microprocessors, including the first Sun server to use an Intel chip since the two companies announced an agreement earlier this year.

The new server architecture, which Sun is calling Sun Blade 6000 Modular System, will also add systems that use Advanced Micro Devices x86 Opteron processors as well as Suns own UltraSPARC chips to the Santa Clara, Calif., companys blade line.

The new systems will also support a number of operating systems, including Suns own Solaris 10, as well as Microsoft Windows and Linux. In addition, the new blades will support VMwares virtualization hypervisor software.

In addition to the three new blades Sun is unveiling June 6, the company will detail a new 10U (17.5-inch) chassis that will allow customers to mix and match up to 10 of these new blades on each chassis. When fully configured, this chassis will offer users up to 320 processing cores, support for up to 2.5 terabytes of data and 5 terabits per second of I/O throughput per rack.

"What we are offering is the broadest set of support for applications in the same physical form factor," said Mike McNerney, director of Suns blade product line. "These systems really offer the best performance on blade architecture that is out there."

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If Sun is looking to raise its profile in the blade market, which IDC valued at $768 million for the first quarter of 2007, it will have to compete with both IBM and Hewlett-Packard. Those two major vendors, according to the same IDC report released May 23, control about 75 percent of the blade market combined.

In the overall server market, Sun ranked third along with Dell, but it watched its revenue climb a little more than 6 percent in the first quarter of this year.

Clay Ryder, president and chief analyst of the Sageza Group, said Sun does have the potential to mount a serious challenge to the other main vendors in this space, but it will take time to build momentum.

"But we do have to keep in mind that [the blade space] is still a new market," Ryder said. "Weve been talking about it for a while, but the sheer numbers out there just pale compared with racks and traditional island box servers. Certainly [Sun has] the potential to do it [break into the market leadership]. Whether they succeed in getting the market to bite, time will tell."

By offering AMD and Intel processors, along with its own line of UltraSPARC chips, Sun is reaching out to enterprises that are looking for choice in the data center and that need different systems to run a wide range of applications.

"In some ways, Sun and IBM are similar in that they can reach out to different workloads [with the different processors]," Ryder said. "In the case of this announcement for technical computing, what that historically has been is PA-RISC shifting to Itanium, certainly Power 5 moving to Power 6, and UltraSPARC. So its [the new Sun blade] square on the nose for that market."

Chuck Sears, manager of research computing at Oregon State Universitys College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, has been beta testing a mixed chassis of new Sun blades for about a month and has been using the systems to run different applications based on which processor he feels gives the best performance.

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For instance, Sears said that certain business-facing applications require the throughput found on the UltraSPARC-based system, which uses Suns chip multithreading technology—a key feature Sun built into its processors that allows the CPU to run multiple threads in parallel, which provides higher throughput for multithread applications.

"You dont have to try to pigeonhole tasks onto a particular architecture," Sears said.

Sears also uses the new Intel-based system, the Sun Blade X6250, a two-socket blade that offers a quad-core Xeon processor, which his department has been using in its image processing.

"Its been very stable, and it has good throughput," Sears added.

In addition to the Xeon-based blade, Sun is rolling out the Sun Blade T6300, a one-socket system that will use the UltraSPARC T1 processor, which was formerly known as "Niagara." The system also offers up to 16 DIMMs (dual in-line memory modules).

The third system, a two-socket blade, is based on dual-core AMD Opteron processors. When AMD releases its quad-core Opteron, "Barcelona," later this year, Sun will offer systems that can upgrade to this next-generation processor.

All three systems will also use industry-standard PCI Express I/O architecture and adapters. In addition, all three systems will utilize Suns new Neptune 10 Gigabit Ethernet technology, which the company began offering Feb. 20.

The new blades will support both Suns management software and third-party management applications such as those from Altiris and Microsoft.

The Sun Blade 6000 Modular Systems are available starting June 6. The entry-level pricing for the Sun Blade 6000 Chassis is $4,995; the Sun Blade T6300, $5,995; the Sun Blade X6250, $3,695; and the Sun Blade X6220, $3,995.

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Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...