Sun blade servers competing with IBM and HP

Sun blade servers competing with IBM and HP

Sun Microsystems is launching a new blade server system that propels it into direct competition with blade market leaders IBM and HP.

This is a move into what Sun calls the front of the datacentre -- that is, more customer-facing systems — as opposed to back-end systems running enterprise databases, which Sun's UK product manager Gary Owen describes as the company's heartland.

The Sun Blade 6000 system consists of a new chassis and a set of blades that will include CPUs from AMD, Intel and Sun.

1. The chassis will work with different processor architectures simultaneously. "It's the only blade product that can genuinely have three architectures of blade -- AMD Opterons, Intel Xeons, and the UltraSparc T1," said Owen. "With ours you can mix and match but with others you can only put one architecture at a time. Our customers see the benefits as it's a datacentre in a chassis."

2. The chassis uses what Owen described as industry-standard I/O modules. In other words, plug-in I/O modules work using PCIE, which is controlled by the PCI SIG -- an industry standards body.

3. Sun has placed a management module on the blade that allows users to manage the blades as if they were individual systems. According to Owen, the advantage of this is that IT managers can use the same management framework that they use for other systems, such as rack servers.

4. Owen claimed no other blade vendor offered as wide a range of CPUs -- although he admitted that both IBM and HP offer blades with processor architectures other than x86. All Sun's blades are two-socket devices. The Intel Xeon product will be quad-core from launch, while AMD's Opteron-based blade will initially be dual-core but will go quad-core ready when Barcelona, the processor company's quad-core chip, comes out towards the end of this UK summer.

All blades contain eight DIMM slots and capacity for four hotplug SAS disks, which means they're externally accessible. Owen said this number of drives, though unusual on a blade, was required for applications such as high-performance computing; they can be configured as a RAID. Disks also use modular I/O controller so users can switch to other controller technologies if required. Owen reckoned the blades offer twice the I/O bandwidth than the best from HP.

5. Finally, Owen said that the chassis is highly modular with most parts upgradeable, and that it's designed for the demands of four-way blades and includes, for example, redundant 6kW PSUs.

The 6000's I/O options start with a £300 (US$598) 10-port Network Express 1Gbit Ethernet switch module for £300. Users can extend with modules offering 10Gbit Ethernet, and Infiniband, for example. Ports can be virtualised between blades, allowing high bandwidth applications to grab more I/O capacity.

Alongside the hardware itself is a subscription purchase offer which allows customers to buy the product over 2.5 years, a deal that includes up to two technology upgrades, such as CPU speed bump.

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