Sun blade servers on tap for this summer

Systems chief John Fowler said to expect Sun blade servers in the coming weeks.

SAN FRANCISCO -- It may sound like something you'd hear from a futuristic thriller movie: "The real blade war is about to start."

Rather, they were the words of John Fowler, the new executive vice president of systems for Sun Microsystems Inc., talking about the future of blade servers on Tuesday at the company's San Francisco office.

Relevant links:

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Of course, Fowler probably wouldn't call it a war unless his company was one of the combatants, which it plans to be when it rolls out blade servers code-named Andromeda this summer. It is Sun's first serious foray into blade servers. During its first attempt, the blades ran into heat issues and were discontinued.

Since then, the company has been missing from the booming blade server market, letting IBM and Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) take the lead and raising some eyebrows in the industry as to Sun's absence. But Fowler said what Sun has been doing in the meantime is designing the next generation, what he calls the third generation of blade servers.

"We haven't been in the market in the recent generation, so we have to come out and make a statement," Fowler told a group of reporters and analysts Tuesday morning. The informal "chalk talk" happened a day before HP was expected to make an announcement on blade servers and systems.

The key to the third generation of blade servers, Fowler says, is to combine the strengths of blade servers -- manageability, serviceability, computing density -- with the strengths of rack servers, stronger CPU, memory and a I/O bandwidth. Then Fowler and others think data centers will wave a slow goodbye to rack servers.

That's what Sun claims its blade servers will do when they become available sometime this summer. Fowler said the company focused especially on the longevity of the new blades, another missing piece in the blade format.

Though Fowler didn't release all the details of the forthcoming Sun blades, he did say that they would:

  • Have better ability for upgrade of CPU and memory, lengthening a chassis' lifetime
  • Provide for a somewhat standard PCI Express Module I/O, basically allowing for Sun blades to connect to more components from other vendors
  • Be able to connect blades to multiple storage networks with large bandwidth I/O
  • Fowler and others feel that blades are the wave of the future, that they will eventually overtake rack servers in the same way that rack servers overtook tower servers.

    "It's inevitable," said Tom Kucharvy, president of Boston-based Summit Strategies Inc., a research and analyst firm. "It's going to be a slow process, but I think we're already seeing it. The advantage of a blade architecture is so superior."

    Blade server architectures include a chassis, or frame, that can contain dozens of blades depending on the vendor. The setup allows for flexibility in case ruined blades need replacement. Other blades can be plugged into the slot and resume running the portion of the data center that the original blade handled.

    Typically, blades have been good for applications, such as Web services, but not as good for CPU-heavy loads, such as database or virtualization management programs. Sun hopes to change that and have blades handle larger computational loads as the CPU and memory allow them to do so. He also wants to integrate management of the blades into other x64 servers.

    "We're not creating an island where you manage a blade server in a different way from rack servers," he said.

    Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Mark Fontecchio, News Writer

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