Sun Rolls Out Nehalem-Based Servers, Data Center Strategy

Sun is building its Open Network Systems initiative around a host of new servers that offer new Intel Nehalem chips, integrated networking technologies and on-board Flash-based SSD memory. The strategy moves Sun deeper into the highly competitive space around the converged data center, where rivals such as HP and Cisco are already making their play. The new systems are aimed at highly virtualized environments in both the HPC and enterprise fields.

Sun Microsystems is pulling together its next-generation Intel-based servers, storage technologies and new networking innovations to build the basis for its data center initiative.

Key to Sun's Open Network Systems program are servers powered by Intel's new Xeon 5500 series quad-core processors, and featuring on-board networking technology and integrated Flash memory, a Solaris operating system optimized for the new Intel chip architecture, greater virtualization capabilities and unified management.

With the new initiative, being announced April 14 at its North American Partner Summit in Las Vegas, Sun becomes the latest major tech vendor to unveil a strategy designed to link together the various compute resources, storage systems and networking technologies in a converged cloud computing-like data center environment.

For images of Sun's new server products, click here.

Cisco Systems last month unveiled its long-awaited Unified Computing System strategy-which includes not only its networking technology but also its first blade servers and partnerships with such vendors as VMware and EMC. For its part, Hewlett-Packard has introduced its Virtual Connect technology to help link its various server and storage technologies within the data center as part of its Adaptive Infrastructure strategy.

More recently, Novell officials unveiled their Service-Driven Data Center campaign. In addition, some smaller vendors and startups are looking to get a foothold in the data center space. For example, a company called Schooner Information Technology emerged from stealth mode April 13 with new data center appliances that merge flash memory, the Xeon 5500 series-also known as Nehalem EP chips-low latency interconnect and storage capabilities.

What's fueling these initiatives is the need to increase energy efficiency and drive down operating costs in data centers that are increasing in complexity-thanks in large part to the rapid growth of virtualization-and are under pressure to scale and offer more services.

Officials for Sun-recently the subject of acquisition reports involving IBM-believe they've found the right balance of open technologies and innovative products to help businesses build these dynamic, fast and efficient data centers.

"We're approaching this in a holistic manner," said John Fowler, executive vice president of Sun's systems group.

Sun is unveiling seven new servers based on the Nehalem EP processors. The new Intel architecture, introduced March 30, is designed to ramp up performance and energy efficiency while driving down costs. Key new features in the Nehalem architecture include an integrated memory controller-similar to what rival Advanced Micro Devices offers in its Opteron processors-a chip-to-chip interconnect, new power management capabilities and better virtualization support.

Andy Bechtolsheim is still influencing Sun designs. Read more here.

A host of systems makers have already announced new servers powered by the Intel Nehalem EP chips. Fowler said that the Sun servers also take advantage of what Intel is offering.

However, Sun also is integrating other technologies into the servers, including flash-based SSDs (solid-state disks) and I/O technologies, including 10 Gigabit Ethernet, InfiniBand and its Sun Virtual NEM (Network Express Module)-essentially virtualized NICs (network interface cards).

The goal is to improve data center performance by increasing the speed, simplicity and savings offered in the Sun products, Fowler said.

For example, the Sun Blade X6270 not only offers up to twice the memory capacity of competing blades, but also-when combined with the Virtual NEM technology-offers an all-in-one virtualization solution, Sun officials said.

Integrated SSD technology lets the 1U Sun Fire X4170 save users up to 75 percent in rack space and consume 60 percent less power than competing 4U servers, and the Sun Fire X4275 server offer 12 terabytes of raw data.

Sun estimates that the use of integrated flash-based SSDs will enable users to get 70 times the response time, up to eight times better throughput and up to 38 percent less energy consumed than servers with conventional spinning hard disks.

Integrated networking technologies increase the simplicity, Fowler said. The Sun Blade 6000 Virtual NEM is a 10 Gigabit Ethernet virtualization provisioning module that lowers the cost per port and reduces the amount of cabling needed. The Sun Blade 6048 Quad Data Rate InfiniBand NEM offers integrated 40GB InfiniBand capabilities, which is highly valued in HPC (high-performance computing) environments, a key audience for Sun technology.

Fowler also said that as the use of virtualization increases in the data center, he expects InfiniBand use in the enterprise to increase as well.

The Sun Quad Data Rate IB and Host Channel Adaptors are now bringing quad-data rate capabilities to rack and blade compute nodes, which officials said will improve price/performance.