Sun Adds Intel Chips To Its Blade Line - InformationWeek

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Sun Adds Intel Chips To Its Blade Line

The Sun Blade 6000 Modular System is built on a 10U chassis design and highlights Sun's new partnership with Intel.

Sun Microsystems on Wednesday launched the Sun Blade 6000 line, which at least one analyst firm believes is a competitive offering in a market led by Hewlett-Packard.

The Sun Blade 6000 Modular System is built on a 10U chassis design and supports blades based on microprocessors from Advanced Micro Devices, Sun, and for the first time from Intel. The system also makes use of PCI Express to provide a "density and serviceability advantage," according to Forrester Research. PCI Express is a computer expansion card interface format that's much faster than older standard PCI slots.

The Sun Blade 6000 chassis supports 10 blades and up to 320 cores. Each blade supports microprocessors with four and eight cores. In addition, the chassis delivers up to 2.5 terabytes of memory, and 5 terabytes per second of input/output throughput per rack. I/O is the transferring of data between the CPU and a peripheral device.

Supported blades include the Sun Blade T6300, a one-socket blade powered by the Sun UltraSparc T1 processor. The T6300 is the first blade to use the Sun chip. Other available blades include the X6250, a two-socket server powered by a quad-core Intel Xeon processor, and the X6220, also a two-socket blade, but powered by an AMD Opteron chip.

Forrester analyst James Staten said in the analyst firm's blog that Sun has managed to up the memory density on the Opteron and Xeon blades to a maximum of 64 Gbytes. In addition, the company has used PCI Express to separate I/O from each blade entirely, which allows for a higher I/O port count per blade, and hot swapping of I/O ports from the back of the chassis.

"These improvements in memory and I/O density will favor customers who plan to deploy these blades for virtualized environments," Staten said. Sun has beaten Dell, HP, and IBM in the use of PCI Express to differentiate its offering.

The Sun Blade's other distinguishing feature is that they reflect the expanded relationship between Sun and Intel. In January, the two companies inked a deal that calls for Sun to expand its use of Intel Xeon chips in Sun's volume x86 servers.

Sun also has differentiated its new blade system through the Sun Refresh Service program, a subscription-based offering that provides a refresh of blade chassis, including updated processors and memory, at 42 months after the initial purchase. The refresh "falls right in the sweet spot of most enterprises' normal sever refresh cycle (3-5 years)," Staten said.

Nevertheless, Sun is not expected to steal customers from competitors with the new system. Instead, the company is more likely to sway their own customers who have been hesitant to buy the company's previous blade offerings. "To that end we expect sales of the Sun Blade 6000 will come at the expense of Sun rack server rather than competing blades and in general help grow the overall blade server market," Staten said.

Sun has yet to make a dent in the blade server market. In the first quarter of this year, HP easily led the market in terms of revenue with a 40.9% share, according to IDC. The computer maker increased revenue year over year by 49.2%, gaining 3.3 points of market share over the first quarter of 2006. IBM was second in the market with a 35.2% share.

HP also led the overall server market by revenue with a 29.2% share, followed by IBM, 28.9%; and Sun, 10.9%, according to IDC. The market overall grew 4.9% in the quarter to $12.4 billion.

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