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Server Snapshots: Spotlight on Sun Microsystems

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Big changes have transpired at Sun Microsystems since our previous Server Snapshot, which ran in October 2006. Since then, the OEM has rolled out of a new blade system, faster processors, and the first products from its alliance with Fujitsu Computer Systems — the M4000, M5000, M8000 and M9000, all of which were recently profiled in this column.

A new blade system, faster processors, and the first fruits of its alliance with Fujitsu Computer Systems has made for a busy year for the Santa Clara systems vendor.

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“Sun’s new systems, in conjunction with Fujitsu, are worthy competitors from a technical standpoint,” said Dan Olds, principal of Gabriel Consulting Group. “They go a long way towards helping Sun enhance their competitive position in the midrange and high-end segments of the market.”

The new M-Class servers, based on the SPARC architecture and running Solaris 10, are said to be the fastest SPARC servers ever. Known as SPARC Enterprise models, they target users interested in scalability and reliability, as well as increased system utilization and performance through virtualization.

“These new systems help customers tackle the world’s most challenging computing problems, whether in the back office or in high-performance computing,” said John Fowler, executive vice president of the systems group at Sun. “And they achieve this performance while delivering mainframe reliability with the unmatched virtualization capabilities that Solaris customers expect.”

SPARC Enterprise entry models use the UltraSPARC T1 processor developed by Sun Microsystems. Midrange and high-end models use the SPARC64 VI processor developed by Fujitsu.

Modular Blades

Another big shift in the Sun’s solar system is the Sun Blade 6000 Modular System. According to the OEM, it has up to double the memory and double the I/O capacity of competing blades and rackmount servers.

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Sun offers a choice of blades powered by the UltraSPARC T1 processor (with CoolThreads technology), Intel Xeon processors or AMD Opteron processors. In addition, new systems support microprocessors with four and eight cores. The blades support Solaris 10, Windows and Linux.

“With the three fastest processor platforms, three operating systems, the most memory and I/O bandwidth, Sun is delivering a system that enables customers to upgrade to virtualized blade platforms without the expense or technical compromises presented by all our competitors,” said Fowler. “We are now offering the broadest support of volume architecture and operating systems in the industry — combined with the energy efficiency. The Sun Blade 6000 can be anyone’s universal deployment platform.”

The blade has a 10 RU chassis and supports up to 10 blades per chassis with up to four chassis per rack. This adds up to a full capacity of up to 320 cores, 2.5 terabytes (TB) of memory and five Tbps of usable I/O throughput per rack. It can operate with a variety of Sun blades: the Sun Blade T6300 Server Module (a 1-socket blade with an UltraSPARC T1 processor), the Sun Blade X6250 server module (a 2-socket quad-core Intel Xeon processor 5300 series blade) and the Sun Blade X6220 Server Module (a 2-socket blade using AMD Opteron processors).

Entry-level pricing starts at $4,995 for the Sun Blade 6000 Chassis, $5,995 per server module for the Sun Blade T6300, $3,695 per server module for the Sun Blade X6250, and $3,995 per server module for the Sun Blade X6220.


What Sun really wants to talk about is CoolThreads. The company has shipped more than 1 million CPU “threads,” and passed the half-billion-dollar revenue mark for its CoolThreads-based T1000 and T2000 models. The chip multithreading (CMT) UltraSPARC T1 processor and associated systems were introduced in late 2005, and the second-generation chip (T2) was unveiled earlier this month. When used alongside Solaris 10, the processor is winning friends for its performance, while also being highly space and energy efficient.

“We calculate that only 15 percent of the T1000 CPU processor cycles go unused, which compares very favorably to the 85 percent of wasted cycles from competitive processors,” said Fowler.

Sun further enhanced its CoolThreads models with the release of the 1.4GHz version of the processor. This delivers 15 to 30 percent higher performance than the 1.2GHz processor on industry benchmarks. In addition, the company added Logical Domains (LDoms) virtualization technology to complement existing Solaris Containers OS virtualization.

“LDoms enable a single Sun CoolThreads server to be carved up into up to 32 independent and isolated hardware domains, each running their own OS instance,” said Mat Keep, Niagara Product Management. “Both Solaris 10 and Ubuntu Linux are running as guests within LDoms, enabling customers to consolidate mixed workloads.”

LDom technology is provided as a no-cost feature and runs across all systems equipped with UltraSPARC T1 processors. LDoms are also backward-compatible with earlier T1000 and T2000 systems.

“We continue to see customers selecting CoolThreads servers as the platform of choice for deploying highly performant, highly scalable and highly efficient Web infrastructure,” said Keep. “In addition, Sun CoolThreads servers are proving themselves as a key platform for deployment of the most demanding services across the spectrum of both Java and enterprise application workloads.”

Server Strength

The success of CoolThreads is certainly rubbing off on the company’s sales overall. Year-to-year total server revenue market share grew for the fifth straight quarter, according to IDC. Sun remains the No. 1 Unix server revenue vendor.

“Our high-end Unix server sales were particularly strong, as customers turned to Solaris to help with virtualization and consolidation,” says Fowler. “And with the SPARC Enterprise servers now in the market, new Intel- and AMD-based products coming soon, and Niagara 2 on the horizon we’re continuing to strengthen our product line.”

The UltraSPARC T1 processor with its 32 threads, then, is just the first in a long roadmap of CMT processors that Sun will introduce during the next two years. Sun unveiled the 64-thread “Niagara 2” processor earlier this month and plans to ship Sun Fire servers with the UltraSPARC T2 processor and Solaris 10 in the second half of 2007. In addition, it has successfully completed the tapeout (initial design completion for first fabrication) of its high-end “Rock” processor.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how these systems stack up against Sun’s upcoming Rock systems — due around the second half of 2008,” says Olds. “Sun has been pre-positioning Rock firmly in the high end of their product line. I think Sun will have to carefully position the M-class and Rock systems in order to reduce customer confusion and address potential concerns about Sun’s ongoing commitment to both platforms.”

Sun Microsystems Close Up


Entry-Level Servers

CoolThreads Servers

Midrange Servers

High-End Servers

Carrier-Grade Servers

Target Deployments Application development; EDA; security; portal server; Web server; application server; storage server; database, application consolidation, OLTP, CRM, ERP, DNS, HTTP, and FTP services; and Internet gateway Web Server, identity or directory server, portal server, application integration, index, search, edge or network node; Java application servers; enterprise application servers (ERP and CRM); Web tier consolidation; virtualization and consolidation; and telecommunications services Server consolidation; virtualization, eco computing; application serving; BIDW (database, decision support, and datamart); business processing (ERP, CRM, OLTP, and batch); IT Infrastructure (directory servers, systems, and network management); application development; scientific engineering; and collaboration Server consolidation; virtualization, eco computing; BIDW (database, decision support and datamart); business processing (ERP, CRM, OLTP and batch); IT infrastructure (directory servers, systems and network management); high-performance technical computing; and decision support systems Telecom applications: high-availability and reliability telecom applications, including wireless, 3G, signaling, operations, management, network infrastructure, VoIP, softswitch, military, embedded applications, ruggedized and OEM environments
Processor Type UltraSPARC IIi, IIIi and AMD Opteron UltraSPARC T1 UltraSPARC IV+, III, dual-core SPARC VI and dual-core AMD Opteron UltraSPARC IV+ and dual-core SPARC64 VI UltraSPARC IIi, III and IIIi
Operating System Solaris 8, 9, and 10 (on SPARC); Solaris 9 and 10, Red Hat Linux, SUSE Linux, Windows and VMware (on x64 systems) Solaris 10 and Linux Solaris 8, 9, and 10, Linux, Windows, and VMware Solaris 8, 9 and 10 Solaris 8, 9 and 10
Servers Sun Fire (SPARC)
Sun Fire (Opteron)
X4600 and X4600 M2 servers
X4200 and X4200 M2 servers
X4100 and X4100 M2 servers
X2100 and X2100 M2 servers
X2200 M2
Sun Grid Rack System
Sun Fire
Sun SPARC Enterprise
Sun Blade
Netra CP3060 Blade
Netra T2000 Server
Sun Fire
Netra 1280
SPARC Enterprise
Sun Fire

Netra Processor Blades
Netra Servers
Sun Blade 8000 Modular System

Price Range From $945 From $3,995 Sun Fire V480 starts at $19,995; Sun Fire E6900 starts at $241,490
SPARC Enterprise M4000 servers starts at $54,000 to SPARC Enterprise M5000, which starts at $59,000
Priced individually based on customer configuration
SPARC Enterprise M8000 servers start at $290,690, SPARC Enterprise M9000 servers start at $511,385
From $3,395; chassis at $4,995; 8-way server module from $14,600

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