Sun to Fire Up New Servers

The hardware maker is expected to unveil servers based on its new UltraSPARC IV+ processor next week.

Sun is adding more spark to its Sun Fire servers.

Beginning next week, the San Jose, Calif.-based hardware maker will add its UltraSPARC VI+ processor to its line of mid-range and high-end Sun Fire machines, sources familiar with its plans said.

The chip, which offers improvements over Sun Microsystems Inc.s current UltraSPARC IV chip, including increased clock speed—it will run at about 1.5GHz—and the addition of onboard memory, was designed to boost the throughput of Sun Fire servers used in corporate data centers for jobs such as running customer relationship management software.

Also, the new chip consumes about the same amount of power and will cost about the same as its predecessor, the sources said.

Suns addition of new UltraSPARC IV+ Sun Fire servers will continue a broad refresh of the companys server hardware.

The company kicked off the rollout earlier this month when it unveiled Galaxy, its latest line of Sun Fire servers based on Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s Opteron chip.

The new hardware—the company will eventually refresh all three of its major classes of server machines—is vital to help Sun compete against rivals such as Dell Inc., IBM and Hewlett-Packard Co., and to help right itself financially, industry observers say.

Sun will actually offer the UltraSPARC IV+ chip to customers in two ways.

Customers will be able to purchase Sun Fire servers equipped with it from the factory, and Sun will also offer it as an upgrade.

As with past chip upgrades, Sun will make UltraSPARC IV+ boards, which can be plugged into the servers to boost their performance, available as well.

The boards allow companies to upgrade, but avoid purchasing brand new machines, the sources said.

The introduction of UltraSPARC IV+ servers marks the second stage in Suns broad server refresh.

Galaxy machines, which began the cycle, doubled up on many of the features previously found in Sun Opteron machines.

The line is expected to eventually offer as many as eight dual-core Opterons, sources familiar with Suns plans have said.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read more about why Sun sought to partner with AMD.

Sun plans to compete the upgrade cycle next year by rolling out new systems based on a forthcoming SPARC chip dubbed Niagara, for what it calls Web-facing jobs.

Niagara, due early next year, is expected to be better optimized for multicore than Opteron, meaning it should deliver a higher level of price performance for jobs such as handling Web transactions.

Sun might face at least some potential conflicts in that its Opteron and Niagara-based Sun Fire systems will tackle similar jobs, said Gordon Haff, analyst with Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H., during a recent interview with Ziff Davis Internet.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read more about the Sun Niagara chips design.

However, the machines are likely to appeal to different sets of customers, Haff said in the interview.

"You have customers and potential customers—some of whom are existing SPARC customers and some of whom are x86—and for their own reasons they want one architecture or another," Haff said.

"So the reality is that although there is certainly an overlap [between Opteron and Niagara machines] its probably not as big as it looks on paper."

Collectively, the new server hardware will have one additional job, Haff said in the interview.

"Basically, Sun needs to make money off of these things," he said. "To its credit, Sun has managed not to implode—it has been managing to operate at break even for a while now. But certainly at some point it needs to do better than that.

"With this kind of round of products coming in the latter part of this year—it is kind of at the point where if Sun doesnt really start to pick up some momentum with these new products one has to ask, whats left? What ammunition does it have left at that point?"

Sun declined to comment for this story.

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