Sun rounds out Opteron line with four-way

Sun Microsystems Inc. on Monday will announce a new server based on Advanced Micro Devices Inc.’s (AMD) Opteron processor, according to sources close to Sun. The new server, called the Sun Fire V40z, will be the second Opteron server Sun has shipped since it announced plans to begin shipping AMD-based systems in November 2003.

The V40z will be a 3U (13-centimetre) rack-mountable system based on three models of Opteron: the 1.8GHz Opteron 844, the 2.2GHz Opteron 848 and the 2.4GHz Opteron 250, according to materials posted on a Sun partner Web site.

It will include the Solaris 9 operating system, DDR1/333 (double data rate) memory and either one or two 10,000 revolutions per minute 73GB Ultra320 SCSI disks, the Web site said.

Pricing for the new systems will start at US$8,495 for a dual-processor V40z with 2GB of memory and a single 73GB hard drive, the partner site said. A four-processor V40z based on the Opteron 848 processor with 8GB of memory and two 73GB hard drives will cost US$22,995.

With Monday’s announcement, Sun will become the second major vendor, after Hewlett-Packard Co., to ship a four-processor Opteron system. Larger systems like Sun’s V40z and HP’s DL585 are better able to take advantage of the large memory afforded by Opteron’s 64-bit memory address space and will make AMD’s processors more appealing as a platform for database and enterprise resource planning applications, analysts say.

Opteron extends the x86 instruction set used by Intel’s 32-bit microprocessors, allowing support for either 32-bit or 64-bit applications. The processor’s 64-bit architecture also allows Opteron systems to address much larger memory sizes than the 4G bytes that are addressable by 32-bit x86 chips.

Sun has made Opteron the centrepiece of its low-end product line, and though Sun’s initial Opteron systems have not been designed by Sun, the company is working on a new generation of Opteron machines based on technology the Santa Clara, Calif., computer maker acquired in its February 2004 purchase of Kaelia Inc., a computer system design company headed by Sun alumnus Andreas Bechtolsheim.

Though Sun CEO Scott McNealy has admitted that his company stumbled in adopting products for the x86 market, clearly Sun hopes that the Kaelia technology will put it ahead of the competition. Bechtolsheim designed the first generation of Sun workstations using commodity components back in the 1980s, and Sun executives are counting on him to again work wonders — this time with Opteron components.

“When Andy’s designs come out later this year, you’ll see board integration that’s just worlds ahead of others,” said Larry Singer, vice-president of Sun’s Global Information Systems Strategy Office, in a recent interview.

Because of innovations by Bechtolsheim, the Kaelia systems will boast improved power consumption and new capabilities such as multimedia cards that are capable of handling both video and audio, Singer said. The “vast majority” of Bechtolsheim’s designs are for two-way and four-way systems, Singer said.

“He doesn’t invent new chips; he figures out how to take the components that are available and build better systems with them.”

In addition to the upcoming Kaelia products, Sun hopes that its Solaris operating system will serve as a point of differentiation between it and other server vendors. “We will be competing with Dell, but will have tighter integration with the OS than Dell can ever think to offer, and a new business model where we’ll give you the hardware for free if you subscribe to the operating system and the Java Enterprise system,” Singer said.

Sun has already experimented with this free hardware model, offering its Opteron-based W1100z workstations for free to developers who subscribe to the company’s US$1,499-per-year Java Studio Enterprise software.

Sun has said that it will make the single-processor W1100z workstations generally available some time in July. A dual-processor version of the Opteron workstation, called the W2100z, is also expected this month.

Sun’s other Opteron product, the two-way Sun Fire V20z server, began shipping in April.

Sun declined to comment on Monday’s upcoming announcement.

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