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Sun exec: Galaxy to shape Sun's future, part 1

Sun Microsystems is hoping that its newly announced line of x64 servers -- code-named Galaxy -- will help the company regain some of its former prominence.

Following years of steadily losing ground to its competitors in the distributed computing world, Sun Microsystems Inc. is hoping its newly announced line of servers -- code-named Galaxy -- will help it regain some of its former prominence.

Announced yesterday, Sun's new servers are powered by Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron processors and have dual-core capabilities. The new family of x64 servers run from one-way, low-end boxes (the Sun Fire X2100) to two-socket, four-way machines (Sun Fire X4100 and X4200). Looking ahead to next year, Sun plans to expand the line to include an eight-socket, 16-way machine.

To find out more, sat down with Graham Lovell, Sun's senior director of x64 servers and head of the Galaxy line. Lovell provided additional details about the servers and discussed how Sun plans to improve the bottom line going forward. He also talked about exactly how Linux and open source play into that strategy. Here are some excerpts from that conversation:

Graham Lovell
Graham Lovell

Can you run down some of the technical details of the new Sun Fire servers?

Graham Lovell: We're announcing a new product line of x64 servers that goes from one-way through 16-way. We're focusing in on the sweet spot that is the one through four-way servers with essentially three new products, and we'll fill out the rest of the product line over the first half of next year.

The entry-level system is the Sun Fire X2100, which starts at $745. This is an Opteron 100 Series-based system. [It's] single-socket and accepts single-core or dual-core.

The next thing in the product line is the X4100. X4100 is a 1U, dual-socket server and when configured with dual-core components this, of course, is a four-way server. So, this is a one through four-way server aimed at the sweet spot of the volume marketplace for x86 servers.

Why is that the sweet spot?

Lovell: That's just where the volume is sold. If you look at the data of what's selling the hottest, it is the one through four-way servers.

What are people using them for?

Lovell: In the technical space, in the commercial space, what we're seeing these servers used for is small to medium-sized databases, distributed databases that are really quite large. We're seeing server consolidation with products like VMware running multiple releases of OSes over the top of that. We're seeing opportunities for Web servers, so aggregating multiple business logic systems together. They're used a lot in with ISVs [independent software vendors] and in back-end servers for design and development process. So there's a whole range of different uses of these systems. They are really the workhorse of today's data center.

What else are you announcing?

Lovell: [We're also announcing] a 2U rackmount server that is similar to the X4100 except that it's twice the depth. So it can be configured with more I/O controllers and more real estate to put in discs and CD-ROMs. That one starts at $2,595. The X4100 starts at 2,195.

Sun is making a slew of announcements this week. Is there anything of particular interest to Linux users?

Lovell: These servers are designed to run literally with any OS. We supply and support Red Hat and SuSE Linux, and we've also qualified our servers in the past on things like Red Flag, Debian and other distributions. But it is an industry-standard server so it will run most of them out there. There is some interesting stuff coming up [in the area of] system management for the Linux community. We have a product called the N1 System Manager. [It] allows you to manage multiple servers as one and to have both a graphical user interface and a command line or scripts-driven interface. It allows you to group servers together into affinity groups and then manage them as if they were one server.

More on Sun:

Sun moves away from Linux desktop

Sun, VMware join forces

Authors slam Sun's open source strategy

It seems a lot of vendors are focusing on improving management of Linux systems. Do you think that is a major issue today?

Lovell: It is particularly where you're deploying in quantities. We've sold a number of systems now in the HPTC space where a customer has got 2,000 systems in one environment. If you've got that number of systems, managing them individually is going to be really tough. So you do need to be able to group them together and be able to understand what's been going on in that environment.

Have systems management capabilities, or lack thereof, been an area of weakness for Linux?

Lovell: Generally, it's an area that needs to get a lot of improvement, particularly when it comes to large numbers of servers. Our focus is making sure that at the fundamental system management level, you understand what's going on in your environment. [Our servers] are also aimed at industry standards. Quite often in the Linux community, they might have they're own sort of homegrown set of management tools modified from open source. Therefore, standards support is important. These servers support all of the common standards including the SMASH interface, which is from the DTMA [Distributed Management Task Force]. That's the latest and greatest interface standard.

Sun has some disappointing financial results over the past few years. How does Sun plan to improve the bottom line going forward?

Lovell: We've been working hard to make sure that we have the right, attractive products and that we can sell in volume. I'm not sure we've had financial troubles as such. We just haven't grown our revenue as rapidly as we'd like.

Be sure to read part 2 of this interview, where Lovell talks more about Sun's plans to improve the bottom line, Sun's open source strategy, as well as competition -- and cooperation -- with Microsoft.

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