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Sun service swaps out old blades

Sun upgrades its blade servers and introduces a subscription service, which for a monthly fee, allows users to "refresh" their blades when new versions come out.

Those that would prefer to lease a Lexus LS rather than buy a Toyota Camry outright might like the blade server subscription service announced by Sun Microsystems Inc. today.

The Santa Clara, Calif., company's Refresh Service allows users to upgrade their chassis with new blades whenever Sun releases them. The announcement coincides with a new Sun blade server, the x8420, the first since the 8000 Modular System came out in July. The new blade and subscription service are available starting today.

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Sun's new blade has four sockets with dual-core Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) Opteron processors running at 2.8 GHz and starts at $13,095. The lease service, which also includes upgrades of software, such as the Solaris operating system, will cost about $23,000 per month, according to Sun director of blade marketing Mike McNerney. That price includes a chassis, 10 blades, and the refresh service.

"It's a lease on steroids," McNerney said.

The program has its limitations as well, as users are only able to get three "refreshes" in a 42-month period. Sun's blade system includes a 19U chassis that holds 10 blades.

But McNerney said the service includes benefits that users wouldn't get if they just bought new hardware when it came out. When the user wants an upgrade, for example, Sun will come to the site, deliver and install the new blades, make sure the user's applications are functioning properly and take away the old blades. Any upgrades of software that normally come with the blades, such as the Solaris operating system, are also included.

"There are clearly companies that will want that option," said Tom Kucharvy, senior vice president of Boston-based research firm Ovum Summit. "I think part of it for them is the ability to have monthly expense costs rather than capital costs."

But not all companies -- especially large enterprises that undergo careful consideration of any upgrades -- will go for the new service, Kucharvy said.

"Particularly as blades are moving into more and more large-scale and mission-critical applications, the workloads they have will be more proprietary applications, so you want to take time for assessment to ensure that it doesn't introduce incompatibility."

The market for blade servers is booming. According to a study from IDC, blade servers accounted for about 6% of all server market revenue in the third quarter last year, but saw 30% growth over the same period the previous year. IBM and Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) dominate the market with almost 80% between them.

The popularity of blade servers stems from their density and simplified cabling. Blades also have their downsides. Densely packed, some data center floors cannot support their weight, and they generate a lot of heat.

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

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