Sun Takes on the Mainframe with Sun Fire 15K

By Amy Newman (Send Email)
Posted Sep 26, 2001


With many potshots at IBM and a few at Microsoft, Sun Microsystems on Tuesday unveiled its much anticipated high-end Sun Fire 15K server.

Formerly code-named "Starcat," the Sun Fire 15K will serve as Sun's new flagship server as the company seeks to offer a "new, comprehensive data center architecture," Sun President and COO Ed Zander said at Sun Fire 15K's launch Tuesday in New York City.

With many potshots at IBM and a few at Microsoft, Sun Microsystems on Tuesday unveiled its much anticipated high-end Sun Fire 15K server.

Sun is emphasizing the Sun Fire 15K's capability to lower enterprises' total cost of ownership and simultaneously offer unprecedented power and scalability.

The offering is targeted at the high-end market data center market, where Sun hopes to knock Big Blue from its perch and nudge the soon-to-be-launched Regatta out of the race.

Citing IBM's approach as "complex, costly, and closed," Zander contrasted IBM's mainframes with Sun's servers, which all follow one binary model and thus enable organizations that implement a server even on the workgroup level to scale up as the need arises.

The Sun Fire 15K can hold up to 106 CPUs, 576 GB of memory, and 250 TB of storage. It has a clock speed of 900 MHz, sustained system bandwidth of 43.2 GB per second, transfer rates of up to 172 GB per second, and 72 PCI slots. Like all servers in the Sun Fire family, it uses the Solaris operating system, an UltraSPARC III processor, and the same components throughout. The Sun Fire 15K has full hardware redundancy, and all components are hot swappable. Any application, so long as it is Solaris compatible, can run on the server.

With these capabilities, the Sun Fire 15K's processing power is equal to 6,000 MIPS, according to Shahin Kahn, Sun's vice president of marketing, or twice the performance of IBM's z900. If thought of in terms of CPUs, Sun Fire 15K's processing power is more than that of 1,000 CPUs.

The Sun Fire 15K can be partitioned into up to 18 separate domains, which helps greatly with Sun's failover strategy. If one of the 18 domains goes down, it impacts only that domain, and resources are shifted from one domain to another with no interruption in service on the user side.

Kahn did note that the Sun Fire 15K, unlike a mainframe, cannot share components between partitions. The Sun Fire 15K, however, does offer hardware partitioning, allowing it to "claim parity at the hardware level," according to Kahn.

The actual Sun Fire 15K box is designed for easy management. Racks can be accessed from either side and slipped in and out, fans switch on dynamically, and (like all of Sun's servers) the Sun Fire 15K can be managed from anywhere.

Sun believes that the trend in server consolidation, and the desire for the lower total cost of ownership that comes with it, will fuel interest in its $1.4-million-plus offering. Enterprises looking to migrate from mainframes are also prime candidates for the product.

Sun's acquisition of Critical Path may make the migration route even smoother. On Tuesday, Sun also announced it had acquired the bulk of Critical Path's assets in its mainframe rehosting business (see Sun Takes Over Parts Of Critical Path). With Sun's absorption of Critical Path's products, enterprises can run their legacy transaction processing and batch applications on the Sun Fire 15K without rewriting their CICS code.

Despite Sun's claims of the Sun Fire 15K's cost savings, it's clear that the up-front investment in the server is hefty. The $1.4 million dollar base price (which covers 16 CPUs and 16 GB of memory) can go as high as $10 million when all the options are added in. In contrast, the Sun Fire 6800, Sun's next powerful server, starts at $245,495, less than one-fifth the base price of the Sun Fire 15K. Granted, it is not nearly as powerful or feature laden.

When questioned about releasing such a high-end product in a slowing economy, CEO Scott McNealy stated that IT may be a discretionary item in the short term, but in the long term it is mandatory. He also said that Sun anticipates new opportunities for high-end products in industries like defense, intelligence, law enforcement, and health care.

The Sun Fire 15K is available for purchase immediately, although it has not yet begun rolling out in volume worldwide.

With this release, the product line Sun will be shipping at year-end 2001 will be entirely different from the one it was shipping when 2000 ended, McNealy said.

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