The announcement is Sun's continued push into the x64 server market with AMD Opteron-based machines. Sun has had fast growth in the past two years on x64 servers – in some cases almost 100% year-to-year - mainly because it has had a small audience and has pushed hard to sell.
Sun's re-entry into the blade architecture continues that effort. Blade servers are like cards that can be slid in and out of slots from an enclosure or chassis. The market has been booming because of blades' economy of space and connectivity benefits, but data centers also have to deal with how much they weigh when they're so densely packed together, and how much heat they generate.
A few years back, Sun tried to come out with blades, but they failed miserably, in part because of heat issues. This time, the blade servers are based on Opteron chips, where Sun has already seen success.
"This is a logical thing for them to do," said Joe Clabby, president of research and analysis firm Clabby Analytics. "It's a must-have architecture, you've got to have blade architecture."
Clabby added that he was impressed with the airflow dynamics, power and cooling, and the overall design of the blades.
Dubbed the 8000 Modular System, Sun's blades start at about $15,000 each, with the chassis costing $5,000. The company said it will start shipping them out late this month. Some features:
The rack server, the x4600, is 4U with the capacity for eight dual-core processors, double the power of its earlier model, the x4200. Price starts at $25,995, and it will start shipping toward the end of this month also.
Other features of the x4600:
Sun has already lined up customers for its powerful new rack servers. Acenet, a partnership of seven universities in eastern Canada formed to provide a place for high-performance computing, has ordered about 16 of the x4600 machines for high performance clustering. Acenet plans to use the cluster to model dynamic molecular formations, genomics, and other compute-intensive workloads.
Peter Poole, an associate professor of physics at Acenet member St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, said that the new Sun rack servers will be able to perform serial and parallel computing effectively, whereas before the group had to split resources and spend money for each process.
"With the x4600, I'm really seeing the convergence of the two (parallel and serial computing potential)," Poole said. "With the 16-core machine, it's incredibly exciting."
Clay Ryder, president of analyst firm The Sageza Group, Inc., acknowledged that he was impressed with all the computing power Sun was throwing out there. But his main question was: Will it sell?
"It just sure feels gold-plated," he said. "Not in a negative sense, but more as in, 'Can I really afford that, and if so, do I really need it?' At the end of the day, it's less about the technology and more about the marketing."
Ryder said that there's so much that companies can do in the data center with lower-end servers that he wonders if Sun is pricing itself out of the market by building too much muscle into its machines. He took that argument to Sun's blade offerings, which claim much higher I/O throughput than blades from market leaders IBM and Hewlett-Packard Co.
"The question that does come across at some point is would the average business or even above-average business require that level of throughput? Sure, it can go 160 miles per hour, but here the freeways have a 60 miles-per-hour speed limit."
Finally, Sun is unveiling a storage-centric server, the x4500, which offers up to 24 terabytes of storage and claims a cost of as low as $2 per gigabyte. It can have up to two dual-core Opteron chips and takes up 4U of rack space. It starts at about $33,000 and starts shipping in mid-August.
Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Mark Fontecchio, News Writer