Sun Unveils New Sun Fire, Blade Servers

By Clint Boulton (Send Email)
Posted Feb 10, 2003


Hungry to regain market share lost to HP and IBM, Sun Microsystems Monday unveiled its highly-anticipated Sun Fire V1280, a new midrange, rack-mounted Unix server available in four to 12 processing unit configurations.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based computer systems manufacturer also unveiled its blade servers for the first time, a faster, cooler UltraSPARC III 1.2Ghz chip for its Sun Fire line, as well as inaugural software for its N1 strategy for on-demand computing. It's not a bet-the-company play, but Sun certainly wants to remain competitive with HP and IBM, who have stolen some of Sun's Unix thunder in the past year.

Sun Monday held an event in San Francisco, which it dubbed Network Computing '03, to introduce the new products. The happening marked a shift in product release strategy, according to Sun CEO and President Scott McNealy, who said Sun would previously spend a year throwing a couple billion dollars worth of research and development at customers and service providers, introducing separate components in a "piecemeal approach."

"This made it harder to write software to these envrionments," McNealy said. Instead, he said Sun would deliver "integrated systems out of Lego block-like components."

McNealy didn't get through the event without taking a shot at IBM. McNealy said customers can pick N1 or they can pick IBM's Global Services and watch them empty out "your wallets like they're a Hoover [vaccum cleaner]."

Of the products, the Sun Fire V1280 is perhaps the most important for industry watchers looking to see how Sun would answer competitive strikes from HP and IBM.

Fitted with the outfit's Dynamic Reconfiguration technology and hot-swappable CPU/ memory boards, the Sun Fire V1280 is targeted for mainframe rehosting, Wintel server consolidation and high performance technical computing (HPTC). The system is based on Sun's Solaris Operating Environment(OE) and features the Sun Open Net Environment (Sun ONE) software stack.

The V1280 also offers one of the largest memory systems in a 12-way UNIX system, with 96 GB, and 9.6 GB per second system bandwidth to make sure applications run smoothly. As a rack system, the Sun Fire V1280 system allows room in the same rack for an additional Sun Fire V1280 system and/or complementary components such as the Sun StorEdge 3300 line, and the Sun StorEdge 3510 Fibre Channel array for direct and SAN attached storage.

The V1280 is priced competitively, from $79,995 to $174,995, to counter similar strategically priced servers from HP and IBM, who have steadily taken market share from Sun in the last year or so.

"Customers have told us that while lower acquisition costs are an incentive to buy in today's economy, the real attraction is lower total cost of ownership in a rack-optimized solution for server consolidation," said Clark Masters, executive vice president, Enterprise Systems Products Group for Sun Microsystems.

Richard Fichera, research fellow with Giga Information Group, said the Sun Fire V1280 addresses both price and performance, and is an attractive alternative to customers needing 8 to 12 CPUs. Fichera also said the play is a necessary step for Sun to regain some lost market share to HP and IBM.

"They have to do it," Fichera told internetnews.com. "This comes at the right time. It's offensive and defnesive. They need to keep their installed user base, as well as try to regain some of the performance part of their systems."

The news also likely spells the end for the Sun Fire 3800 line, Fichera said.

"If you compare the V1280 price to the price of 3800 it's pretty clear that there isn't a lot of reason to buy the 3800. That's not a major deal. It's product line Darwinism, and if they didn't cannibalize their product, someone else eventually would."

Fichera said that while HP and IBM have gained ground on Sun, Fujitsu is an emerging figure on the landscape who, although it does not yet have a major U.S. presence, is gaining traction in America and enjoys success in Europe.

The Sun Fire V1280 system is currently being used by such high-profile customers as DaimlerChrysler, Lucent Technologies, Nortel Networks, and Oregon State University. eBay, Sun said, is currently incorporating Sun Fire V1280 systems into its infrastructure.

Sun: Now's the time for blades and N1
Sun also took the wraps off of its blade server for the first time, unveiling the Sun Fire Blade Platform High, which is designed for rapid deployment of services for the front end of the network.

Ashley Eikenberry, Group Manager, Blades Product Marketing, Sun Volume Systems, said the blade platform, which will cut down on necessary cables and conserve power, enables customers to mix, match and manage Solaris and Linux operating systems, SPARC and x86 architectures and special function blades in the same chassis.

Eikenberry told internetnews.com it is managed by the company's first N1 software product, the N1 Provisioning Server 3.0 Blades Edition, which helps IT administrators manage more servers and slash server farm deployment time from days or weeks to under an hour. The virtualization chracteristics allow customers to manage all the blades in a rack system as though they are one standalone system.

Eikenberry also said specialty blades concentrating on Content Load Balancing and SSL Proxy Specialty Blades, designed to increase resource utilization and availability of applications running on the Sun Fire Blade Platform, will be launched later this year.

Giga's Fichera praised the server blades, saying they will be powerful additions to N1 because they are attractive to customers.

"They're good for lightweight applications servers right now," he said. "This will be a powerful way for them to get a handle on their customer base and give them a good reason not to migrate from Solaris."

The Sun Fire B1600 blades feature an Intelligent Shelf with integrated switches and system controllers, customer-replaceable SPARC/Solaris blades and x86/Linux and Solaris general purpose blades, Secure Socket Layer (SSL) Proxy and Content Load Balancing special function blades, the N1 Provisioning Server 3.0 Blades Edition, Sun Open Net Environment (Sun ONE) middleware and Sun ONE Grid Engine software, and Sun StorEdge 3310 NAS solution.

The new Sun StorEdge 3310 NAS product is designed to provide easily managed RAID storage for the Sun Fire Blade Platform. It has more than three times the density and twice the bandwidth of its nearest competitor, maximizing floor space efficiency and increasing resource allocation.

Pricing for the Sun Fire B1600 Intelligent Shelf begins at $4,795, while the Sun Fire B100s SPARC Blade begins at $1,795. Both will be available in April. The Sun StorEdge 3310 NAS product starts at $18,995. The software license for the N1 Provisioning Server 3.0 Blades Edition is $3,920 U.S. list for one Sun Fire B1600 Intelligent Shelf. Sun's Load Balancing and SSL Proxy Specialty Blades will be available later this year.

Sun also offers an N1 Blades Starter Pack to help customers deploy the N1 technology in a blade environment. Priced at only $27,000 (U.S. list), the product includes blade hardware, N1 software, onsite installation and configuration, remote help desk services, and third-party software in a ready-to-go pack.

The competition

HP, IBM, and even Fujitsu tried to cloud Sun's light in the weeks leading up the the Sun V1280 debut. Last week, IBM boasted that it has sold 2,000 p650 machines, the company's midrange servers that it says may be closest to Sun's new offering in nature. Launched last December, the p650s can run eight processors and chips with speeds up to 1.45 GHz.

HP presented a number of questions for Sun, asking the company if the V1280 is an admission that their existing mid-range servers (3800-4800) have missed the mark.

HP also posed this question: "How can Sun deliver N1 in mixed environments given their adversarial relationship with Microsoft and lack of a services organization? Can Sun support customers' heterogeneous datacenters -- mixing Windows, Linux and Unix -- uncharted waters for Sun?"

Fujitsu, too, spoke up, comparing its own PRIMEPOWER 850 with the V1280, claiming it offers users higher performance at a lower price point.

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