Sun lights Fire Link under data centre

Sun Microsystems Inc. unveiled two sets of technology for its high-end servers last month in an attempt to give customers more choices for improving their data centres.

The company said it has started shipping its long-awaited Sun Fire Link interconnect for hooking together clusters of servers, which is targeted at users in the high-performance computing market. The company also breathed new life into its COD (capacity on demand) program that lets customers pay discounted up-front rates for server processors which they can later “turn on” for a full price.

The announcements were made at the Supercomputing conference held in Baltimore.

The Sun Fire Link interconnect – code-named Wildcat – is Sun’s answer for linking its midrange and high end servers into one, large computer. The technology works with its Sun Fire 6800, Sun Fire 12K and Sun Fire 15K systems and delivers up to 4.8GBps of bandwidth, said Steve Perrenod, group manager for high-performance and technical computing at Sun. Customers can cluster together up to eight of Sun’s servers with the interconnect.

Sun has been a vocal supporter of Infiniband – another type of high-bandwidth, low-latency interconnect – but rolled out Sun Fire Link to fill a gap in its arsenal while Infiniband matures, Perrenod said. The company already has a number of customers using Sun Fire Link, including the High Performance Computing Virtual Laboratory (HPCVL), a consortium of four Canadian universities.

“We are trying to give our users a bit of an edge and do it at the cheapest price,” said Ken Edgecombe, executive director of HPCVL. “The performance we are seeing has outperformed anything else that’s out there.”

HPCVL has linked together a number of Sun systems and moved up to 196 on the list of the world’s 500 top supercomputers, making it the top-performing Canadian system. “We are happy to represent Canada well,” Edgecombe said.

Sun’s COD program also gives its high-end users a boost and brings back a program the company launched during the dot-com boom.

Like rivals IBM Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co., Sun is looking to take some of the pain out of buying high-end servers by making it possible for customers to stretch out their payments for high-performing machines.

Users pay a lower initial cost for extra processors in Sun’s midrange and high-end Sun Fire systems, then pay full price for the processors later when they are activated. The technology is available immediately in Sun’s midrange systems and will be ready for the higher-end Sun Fire 12K and 15K servers in January of next year, said Chris Kruell, group marketing manager for enterprise systems at Sun.

“No matter how you pay for the processors, whether via COD or a straight purchase, the dollars are the same,” Kruell said.

While Sun, based in Santa Clara, Calif., led the way with this type of technology, one analyst said HP has a more refined type of pricing plan that gives it an edge.

“HP is the closest to a real utility pricing model for processor capacity today,” said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata Inc. “Sun was the first to have COD out there, but I think they perhaps rested a little too much on their laurels.”

– IDG News Service