Sun has 12-processor server on the way

Sun Microsystems Inc. appears to be readying a new 12-processor server that will bring some of the high-end features found in its more expensive systems down to its lower cost line of products.

Details of a new server, called the Sun Fire v1280, were available Thursday on the Web site, which provides technical information for Sun users. A maintenance manual for the Sun Fire v1280 said the server will hold as many as 12 UltraSPARC III processors running at 900MHz and include support for some of Sun’s most sophisticated partitioning and system reconfiguration tools. Bringing some of its top technology to less expensive systems is a natural move for Sun as it works to keep pace with rival IBM Corp., one analyst said.

“IBM has been brining partitioning down into their lower end systems, and (that technology) can be useful to customers,” said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata Inc., in Nashua, N.H. “Sun’s move is certainly a response to the same set of customer requirements IBM is addressing.”

A Sun spokesperson declined to provide the release date or pricing for the Sun Fire v1280, saying the company does not comment on unannounced products.

Both Sun and IBM have worked to bring many of the high-end features found on their most expensive Unix servers further down their product lines. These moves come as customers are looking for the best possible technology in lower cost systems, in part due to the tough economy, according to industry analysts.

Sun, in Santa Clara, Calif., has been working on marrying its high-end and low-end products lines for some time, according to a source familiar with the company’s plans. The Sun Fire v1280, code-named Lightweight 8, has been delayed on several occasions, the source said, and the user manual for the product carries the date September 2002. The company has struggled to bring the motherboards of its high-end systems down into the chassis of its lower end V880 server, the source said.

The new motherboards, diagrammed in the online manual, would provide the major boost for the Sun Fire v1280 over its lower end counterparts in Sun’s server line. The most advanced servers from Sun use motherboards that support dynamic partitioning and dynamic reconfiguration of system resources; the lower end v880, v480 and v280 servers do not. This technology allows administrators to run several applications on one server in isolated compartments and then adjust the amount of memory and bandwidth and the number of processors available to those compartments without shutting a server down.

“(The v1280) looks to be basically something in between the v880 and the higher end Sun Fire 3800,” Haff said. “There are a lot of capabilities in Sun’s midrange and high-end products, but they are fairly pricey systems, while the entry-level products are priced aggressively but have a somewhat limited set of features. Without knowing what the pricing will be for the v1280, it’s hard to tell where it will fit in.”

The same motherboards in the v1280 also appear to be used by an as yet unannounced new Netra server from Sun. The Netra 1280 is shown in the user manual alongside the v1280 and would fit into the high end of the Netra products, which are targeted at telecommunications companies.

Few other details on either the v1280 or the new Netra system were available. The user manual for the v1280 does show that the server will have two gigabit Ethernet ports, six PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) ports, a 10/100Mbps Ethernet port and one SCSI (Small Computer System Interface) port.

While informaiton was available on the Web site Thursday, the Sun spokesperson said the company plans to remove information about the product until its launch date.