Sun Readies 'Nehalem'-Based Servers

Sun Microsystems will unveil servers powered by Intel's new processors code-named Nehalem EP at an event in Las Vegas April 14. At the event, Sun also will unveil its Open Network Systems data center strategy. Sun announced enhancements to its Solaris operating system March 30 when Intel launched its Xeon 5500 chips and microarchitecture, but waited two weeks before rolling out the new systems, which will include blade servers.

Sun Microsystems on April 14 will be rolling out servers based on Intel's new quad-core "Nehalem EP" chips as well as unveiling its Open Network Systems data center initiative. The announcements will be made at an event in Las Vegas.

In a notice of the launch on Sun's Website, the company noted that some HPC (high-performance computing) customers already are using Sun blade servers powered by Intel's Xeon 5500 series chips and that more systems running on the processor will start shipping after the April 14 event.

No details were given about the Open Network Systems data center program. Rivals such as Cisco Systems and Hewlett-Packard have been putting together initiatives to more closely tie together server, storage and networking devices within the data center, taking advantage of approaches such as virtualization.

Intel unveiled the Nehalem EP chip and microarchitecture March 30. A host of systems makers big and small-including Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Fujitsu and Rackable Systems-all unveiled new or upgraded servers running on the processor, which is aimed at systems with two sockets. Apple unveiled a Nehalem-powered Xserve system a week later.

The Nehalem EP launch was part of a gradual rollout of the new architecture by Intel. The Nehalem chips for high-end PCs and workstations were unveiled in fall 2008, and the Nehalem EX, for servers with four or more sockets, is due later in 2009.

At the launch of the Xeon 5500 series, Intel officials said the new architecture was built to ramp up performance and energy efficiency while reducing costs around power, cooling and space.

The chips have improved capabilities related to virtualization, a direct chip-to-chip interconnect and an integrated memory controller similar to the design used by rival Advanced Micro Devices in its Opteron processors.

Sun and Intel also collaborated to optimize the Solaris operating system for the Nehalem architecture, a key goal of the partnership announced in 2007 between the two companies.

For example, Sun officials said Solaris is optimized to take advantage of new instruction sets in the Nehalem architecture, as well as such features as the QuickPath chip-to-chip interconnect and Turbo Boost speed ramping technology. With Turbo Boost, the clock speed of individual cores can be increased depending on demand.

In addition, Solaris was enhanced to work with the upgraded multithreading capabilities in Nehalem, according to Sun officials.

Sun's ZFS file system also is a good match for the performance upgrades in the new chip, and the Power Aware Dispatcher in Solaris and OpenSolaris-which helps power down processing cores that aren't being fully utilized-enhances the energy efficiency features in the Xeon 5500 chip, Sun officials said. Sun's DTrace troubleshooting tool and PowerTop feature-which keeps track of CPU utilization-in Solaris will further enhance the energy efficiency capabilities in the Xeon 5500 series.