Sun aims Opteron servers at data centers

Sun Microsystems Inc. launched three Opteron-based servers Tuesday, positioning them as midrange servers to be used for network computing in data centers.

The Sun Fire X4500 data server, Sun Fire X4600 server and Sun Blade 8000 are all powered by Opteron processors from Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD).

Sun engineers chose the chip because it draws fewer watts and offers more sockets than competing processors like Intel Corp.’s new “Woodcrest” dual-core Xeon, said Lisa Sieker, vice president of systems marketing at Sun, in Santa Clara, California.

Sun changed its server processors from Intel to AMD in 2003, and credits the change with helping push the company from a worldwide market share rank of 16th that year to sixth in 2005, she said.

The product launch comes at a tumultuous time for Sun, which saw co-founder and charismatic leader Scott McNealy step down as chief executive in April, and announced plans in May to lay off at least 4,000 people over the next six months.

To sharpen its focus on seeking profit from servers, Sun executives also reorganized the company, combining the Sparc and x64-based servers groups into a single systems group.

Sun hopes to use the X4600 server to seize market share from competitors IBM Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co., offering a single eight-socket server to take the place of a collection of daisy-chained computers, said Arvie Martin, product team lead for Opteron Systems at Sun.

“Consolidation through virtualization is a huge trend in the market today. Customers can consolidate 50 Xeon-based servers down to one Sun Fire with the X4600,” Sieker said.

Sun has worked with NEC Corp. to test the new server in a massive installation at the Tokyo Institute of Technology.

That system includes 655 of Sun’s X4600 servers, each with eight dual-core Opteron processors, for a total of 10,480 cores. The supercomputer ranks as the world’s seventh largest, with its resources shared among the university’s 10,000 engineering students. The university plans to upgrade the machine to quad-core Opteron chips in 2008 and replace it entirely in 2010, said Professor Satoshi Matsuoka.

The other new servers include the X4500, which Sun calls “the industry’s first hybrid data server,” combining a two-socket server with up to 24T bytes of storage, packed into 4U of rack space.

The Sun Blade 8000 is a modular blade server system, based on the company’s “Galaxy” x64 server architecture. With room for 10 four-socket computers sitting in a chassis, and cooling fans and I/O located on the chassis instead of the blade, the unit allows customers to expand systems over many years without worrying about replacing the entire system.

Available by the end of July, the base version of the X4600 is a four-socket machine with dual-core Opteron chips, selling for US$29,995. And the base version of the 8000 includes a chassis and a dual-core blade server, selling for $19,940.

Available by mid-August, the base version of the X4500 will be a two-socket machine with dual-core Opteron chips and 12T bytes of storage, selling for $32,995.

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