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Hardware Today: Sun Server Snapshot

By Michael Hall (Send Email)
Posted Dec 8, 2003


The watchword for Sun in the past year has been "regroupment." Coming off a steep post-dotcom downturn, the company has turned its attention, after a long period of neglect, to the fast-growing world of x86-based servers. Even with a renewed commitment to x86-based processors and some flip-flops on its Linux strategy, Sun still boasts a simple path to its server lines — with an occasional curve along the way to accommodate blade servers, telcos, and server appliances.

One of Sun's traditional strengths has been its end-to-end focus on system sales. Despite some flip-flops on its approach to Linux as a part of its lineup, the company has generally distinguished itself with a consistent emphasis on its own Solaris OE and SPARC architecture. As a result, its server portfolio doesn't present the sprawling, complex collection of architectures and operating systems you might expect to find in Hewlett-Packard's lineup. In fact, with the exception of some taxonomical oddities presented by its desire to underscore its blade offerings, Sun follows a fairly straightforward and linear progression from "entry-level" to "high-end," with a few loose ends presented by its carrier-grade NEBS (Network Equipment-Building System)-certified line and its single current server appliance offering.

The entry-level servers in Sun's lineup are the focus of much of the past year's change, as the Sun low-end strategy has firmed up. Aimed at Web, database, and print services, Sun's offerings in this area are more numerous because the company provides a more gradiated approach at this level, focusing less on adding processors and storage, and more on form-factor and memory.

The bulk of Sun's entry-level stable is SPARC-based.

At the lower end, little distinguishes the systems outside the total possible memory capacity. Moving into the mid-range, a real diversity manifests itself as the Sun Fire 200-series servers appear in a wide array of storage options and form factors, including 1u, 2u, and 4u form factors; two, four, or eight hard drives, with varying options for hot-swapping. At the high end of this range of offerings, the Sun Fire 400-series provides up to 12 hot-swap drives and up to 8-way processing.

On the x86 side of the entry-level range, there are two primary entries: the Sun Fire V60x and V65x.

A collection of B100s blades combined with a Sun Fire V120 Server form the N1 Blades Starter Pack, aimed at easing customers into blade-based data centers.

Sun's high profile fight in 2000 and 2001 was with IBM's mainframe offerings. The battle line with IBM shapes up in this range of Sun's catalog, with machines in this line figuring prominently in the case studies Sun presents for mainframe migration. Machines in this line are aimed at everything from basic web and mail services to high performance computing, and Sun places heavy emphasis on the role of this collection of hardware in its server rehosting programs.

In the next year, this portion of Sun's product line will undergo some changes as the company makes good on its recent partnership with AMD, and Opteron-based systems begin to bring 64-bit x86 computing to Sun's catalog, pitting the more 32-bit compatible Opteron against Intel's Itanium.

At Sun's high end are the Sun Fire 12k and 15k, and the Enterprise 1000. The 12k was introduced last year as a means to stave off IBMs Regatta servers, and represents, despite Sun's identification of it as a "high-end" server, more of a competitor against IBM and HP's mid-range, bridging the gap between the 15k, and the top of Sun's mid-range line, the Sun Fire 6800.

Occupying their own niche outside Sun's straightforward low-end to high-end progression are the NEBS-compliant, ruggedized Netra servers, aimed at the telecommunication industry. Though Sun's sales in this area suffered fairly dramatically during the downturn, the company pushed a pair of blade servers, the Netra 410 and 810, into the mix in November, 2002.

Finally, Sun has shrunk its appliance lineup in the past year. Currently, its iForce VPN/Firewall appliance is its sole offering in that area, which used to include an array of products from acquiree Cobalt Networks, which produced the RaQ and Qube line of Linux-based server appliances.

The big question facing Sun now is whether its late decision to push x86 harder and the losses in market share it's taken in the overall Unix market from IBM, in particular, have cost the company too dearly to recover from. 2004 will probably provide an answer.

The following chart offers an overview of Sun's server offerings, broken down as Sun categorizes them.


Entry-level Servers Midframe & Midrange Servers High-end Servers Blade Servers NEBS-Certified Servers Server Appliances
Target Deployments
Web, file, print, ERP, database Server consolidation, data warehousing, data mining, OLTP, large databases, ERP Server consolidation, mainframe rehosting, high performance computing, decision support & data warehousing Web services, data analysis, straight through processing Ruggedized environments
Security/VPN
Processor Type
UltraSPARC IIi, III &  IIIi, Athlon, Xeon1 UltraSPARC III
UltraSPARC II,III
UltraSPARC IIi (B100s), Mobile Athlon (100x)
UltraSPARC IIi, III
Xeon
Processor Range
1-8 (SPARC)
1 (Athlon), 2 (Xeon)
1-24
Up to 106
1
1-12
1-2
Operating System
SPARC: Solaris 8/9
x86: Solaris 8/9, Linux (Red Hat and SUSE Enterprise editions)
Solaris 8OE or higher
Solaris 2.6/7/8
SPARC: Solaris 8/9
x86: Linux, Solaris 9
Solaris 2.6/8/9
Sun's hardened Linux
Servers
Sun Fire (SPARC):
V100,
V120,
V210,
V240,
V250,
280R,
V440,
V480,
V880z,
V880

Sun Fire (x86):
V60x,
V65x,
V60x Compute Grid Rack System

Others:
Compute Grid Rack System

Sun Fire:
V1280,
3800,
4800,
4810,
6800
Sun Enterprise:
10000

Sun Fire:
12K,
15K
Sun Fire:
B100s,
B100x ,
B1600,
B10n

Netra:
120,
240,
20,
t1400/1405,
1280,
CT 410,
CT 810,
CT 820,
iForce VPN/Firewall Appliance
Price (Minimum Configuration)
From $995
Starting prices range from $54,695 to $94,490 at this level. Contact Sun for price
From $1,795
From $3,395 From $2,095

1 By mid-2004, Sun expects to have Sun Fire servers based on the AMD Opteron chip in its product line.

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