Hardware Today: Sun Microsystems Server Snapshot

For all the publicity about how rocky the past few years have been for Sun, it continues to occupy a position that is the envy of many tech companies. According to IDC, Sun consistently brings in $5 billion dollars in server hardware sales each year, and its 10.5 percent market share make it the No. 3 server vendor in the world.

Recent Server Snapshots
HPC Market
The No. 3 server vendor is working hard to keep its server lines fresh as it surfs the crest of the server technology wave.

"Sun had a 25.3 percent increase in Q4 in Unix server revenue and an increase in shipment volume," said IDC Analyst Jean Bozman. "Ever since the HP/Compaq merger, Sun has essentially held firm as number three, behind IBM and HP."

Although its revenue is slightly down, Sun now ships more units than ever. Bozman attributes this to Sun placing additional emphasis on servers in the sub-$25,000 range, while continuing to sell well in the mid- and high-range. Part of Sun's strategy, she says, to broaden its customer base by widening its product range.

This article looks at recent developments in Sun's key product lines as well as what to expect in the future. The table below provides a high-level overview of Sun's server lines and products.

Sun's Servers, at a Glance

Server Type Entry-Level Servers
Midrange Servers
High-End Servers
Carrier-Grade Blade Servers
Carrier-Grade Netra Rack Servers
Target Deployments Application development; EDA; security; portal server; Web server; database, OLTP, CRM, ERP, DNS, HTTP, and FTP services; and Internet Gateway Server consolidation, application serving, BIDW (database, decision support, and datamart), business processing (ERP, CRM, OLTP, and batch), IT Infrastructure (directory servers, systems and network management), applications development, scientific engineering, and collaboration Server consolidation, 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, and management Telecom applications: Network infrastructure, VoIP, softswitch, 3G networks, military, and embedded applications — ruggedized and OEM environments
Processor Type UltraSPARC IIi and IIIi UltraSPARC IV, III, and dual-core AMD Opteron UltraSPARC IV UltraSPARC IIi UltraSPARC IIi, III, and IIIi
Operating System Solaris 8, 9, and 10 Solaris 8, 9, and 10, Linux and Windows Solaris 8, 9, and 10 Solaris 8, 9, and 10 Solaris 8, 9, and 10
Servers Sun Fire (SPARC)
V100, V120, V210, V240, and V440;
Sun Fire (x86)
Sun Grid Rack System
Sun Fire
V490, V890, E2900, E4900, and E6900;
V480, and V880 , V1280;
Netra 1280
Sun Fire
E20K and E25K
Netra Processor Blades
CP 2140 (cPCI), CP 2160 (cPCI), and CP 2300 (cPSB)
Netra Servers
CT 410 (cPCI), CT 810, (cPCI), CT 820 (cPSB), 120, 240, 440, and 1280
Price Range $995 (Sun Fire V100) to $40,995 (Sun Fire V440) $6,995 (Sun Fire V40z) to $173,490 (Sun Fire E6900) Contact Sun $21,195 (Netra CT 410) to $32,995 (Netra CT 820) $3,395 (Netra 120) to $69,995 (Netra 1280)

Dispensing With Intel

Sun's x86 line is called x64, as it offers only 64-bit AMD Opteron-based systems. The company stopped using Intel Xeon chips earlier this year.

"We are getting much better price/performance and better performance from AMD Opteron," said Graham Lovell, senior director of x64 servers, Network Systems Group at Sun. "The Opteron is well-ahead in terms of dual-core technology, is easy to replace, and runs a lot cooler than the Xeon."

Lovell expects to see the market shift solely to 64-bit processors in the near future. As the next generation of applications and operating systems evolves, he believes customers will stop buying 32-bit servers completely.

Accordingly, Sun is in the midst of rolling out dual-core AMD Opteron-based servers for its entire x64 product line. By the end of May, the Sun Fire V40z dual-core server will be released. This is an enhanced 4-socket, 8-way server that integrates four microprocessors — each with two CPU cores. Sun claims this architecture can achieve twice the performance and power efficiency of Intel-preocessor-based x64 single-core server offerings.

"When you compare 2.2 GHz single vs. dual-core systems, you can achieve more than twice performance in certain circumstances," says Lovell. "When you compare 2.2 GHz dual core to a 2.6 GHz single, you get a 1.5 to 1.7X improvement."

In addition, Lovell says that compared Xeon MP equivalent servers, dual-core versions consume up to 60 percent less rack and floor space; require 50 percent less memory, disk space, I/O capacity, and cooling; and cost 50 percent less per node to manage. The Sun Fire V40z, for example, uses 42 percent of the power needed to support the same number of processor cores in Xeon-based servers.

Sun also plans to release a dual-core version of its Sun Fire V20z server this summer.

"We are seeing high customer demand for dual-core processors," says Lovell. "Before, they went for the highest performance chip version minus 1. Now, they are more interested in the highest speed dual-core servers."

>> With an Eye to the Future

This article was originally published on May 9, 2005
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