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Sun takes another stab at blades

Bridget Botelho
Sun Microsystems Inc. introduced a new "open" blade server today -- the Sun Blade 6000 Modular System -- and its first Intel Corp. Xeon-based product since the two companies announced their strategic alliance in January.

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Sun introduced the blade server as its way of "redefining the data center lifecycle" with up to double the memory and double the I/O capacity of competing blades and rack-mount servers.

The Sun Blade 6000 Modular System offers a choice of UltraSPARC T1 processors with CoolThreads technology, Intel Xeon processors or Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) Opteron processors.

The new blade server also supports Solaris, Windows and Linux operating systems, and has increased memory capacity and I/O bandwidth over previous Sun blades. With its large memory configurations and support for microprocessors with four and eight cores, the Sun Blade 6000 is an ideal platform for virtualization and enables it to run virtually any enterprise application, Sun reported.

"These blades are built around performance by Sun engineers with double the memory and I/O capacity compared to the competition," said Mike McNerney, director of Sun blade server product line. "We've put a real Unix blade together here. The system is similar to T1000 and T2000 servers --16 DIMM, 64 GB of memory, and it will run the whole host of OSes."

Built to last

Sun claims to have designed a future-proof chassis by being able to add more memory and I/O, and by upgrading processors.

"When we looked at this chassis, we looked at making it last through 2012 and making it upgradeable," McNerney said. "A lot of thought goes into the future-proof nature of our designs. Users will continue to add more (processing) cores and networking, and we've planned for that. Virtualization and database clusters won't struggle in our high-capacity blades."

Selling it as an "open" platform, McNerney said that the Blade 6000 assimilates into existing data center infrastructure and management systems easily and doesn't require proprietary I/O, management software or present any hidden licensing costs, as with other vendors' blades.

"We make our blades look like individual servers, so managing them is standard; they talk to the management network the same way typical rack-mount servers do," McNerney said. "If you are using typical management tools from say Hewlett-Packard or IBM, you can use them in our blade chassis. This is different than most vendors who lock you into their products."

The new blades also use the industry standard PCI-Express I/O architecture and adapters, meaning that customers can choose from a wide variety of standard adapters, rather than proprietary adapters designed for a specific blade system.

The Sun Blade 6000 Modular System consists of the following elements:

  • Sun Blade 10 RU chassis: Supports up to 10 blades per chassis with up to four chassis per rack, for a full capacity of up to 320 cores, 2.5 terabytes (TB) of memory and 5 Tbps usable I/O throughput per rack;
  • Sun Blade T6300 Server Module: One-socket blade powered by an UltraSPARC T1 processor with CoolThreads technology;
  • Sun Blade X6220 Server Module: Two-socket blade powered by AMD Opteron processors;
  • Sun Blade X6250 server module: Two-socket quad-core ready blade powered by quad-core Intel Xeon processor 5300 series.
HP slams Sun's blade efforts

In anticipation of Sun's blade announcement, Eric Krueger, a spokesman with Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP), sent an email bashing Sun's attempts at stepping up in the blade market.

"Sun is a nonplayer in blades and has failed to grow any appreciable market share, even after a much hyped introduction of Galaxy blades last year," Krueger said. "The HP BladeSystem c-Class and Sun Blade8000 were both introduced in the summer of 2006 and have experienced very different levels of customer acceptance. HP has enjoyed a rather quick ascension to No. 1 in blade revenues and shipments, while Sun owns a very small position of this rapidly growing market."

Gartner analyst John Enck said the new blade from Sun isn't evolutionary, but it will give Sun a competitive edge against leaders in the blade market, like HP and IBM.

"This generation of products is a vast improvement over Sun's previous generation of blades. The features that I believe are particularly noteworthy are the use of the PCI-Express standard in the I/O subsystem, broad support for third-party management solutions and availability of a subscription-based refresh program that allows Sun to upgrade a customer's blade technology over the term of the subscription," Enck said.

IDC's Quarterly Server Tracker released last month ranks HP the top vendor for blade server revenue and units, with 45.1% unit share and 40.9% revenue share. Sun had only 0.2% unit share and revenue share was 0.6%.

Last July, Sun introduced the Sun Blade 8000 Modular System. The company's first attempt at blades with the Sun Fire Blade 1600 was considered unsuccessful in the market.

"Clearly Sun got the blade infrastructure form factor wrong with their enormous Sun Blade8000 and they may introduce a more dense solution. However, form factor alone isn't what wins in blades," Krueger said. "Like all of our competitors, having a narrow focus on form factor is not solving the real customer problem."

Sun's blade stance

Sun may not be a formidable competitor in the young blade server market, but that could be because the company isn't putting as many of its resources into the blade agenda the way HP has.

Sun even advises against the use of blades in some instances. "One of the big blade promises is high CPU density, but some customers don't have the power and cooling capacity for a dense rack of blades and end up running half a rack. CPUs are getting more and more powerful, so it is becoming more difficult to pack in lots of memory, and dual-core and quad-core chips," McNerney said.

McNerney said IT managers need to ask three big questions before investing in a dense rack of blades: Will it fit into my existing network infrastructure? Will it work with my existing management environment? Does it fit into my existing power and cooling infrastructure?

Coincidentally, when considering Sun's new blade platforms, the answer to the first two questions is probably "yes."

"We are looking at how to make our blade platform as open as possible. Sun's blades are compatible with third-party management tools, not just Sun's, so there is less of a propriety lock-in," McNerney said. "The idea is to maximize blades while reducing the investment costs. Users need to go into it with eyes open and know the potential pitfalls."

Blade 6000 availability and pricing

The Sun Blade 6000 Modular System is available now, with entry-level pricing starting at $4,995 for the Sun Blade 6000 Chassis, $5,995 per server module for the Sun Blade T6300, $3,695 per server module for the Sun Blade X6250 and $3,995 per server module for the Sun Blade X6220. For more information on the Sun Blade 6000 Modular System, including pricing, availability and promotions, please visit: http://www.sun.com/6000

These blades are shipping immediately. The company also offers a try and buy program for 60 days, including a chassis and a couple of blades.

Sun is also giving "startup essentials" startup kit with the blades at deep discounts -- 25% off -- to help startup businesses get the system up and running, along with discounts on systems like Oracle, McNerney said.

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

Also, check out our news blog at serverspecs.blogs.techtarget.com


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