Monday, May 27, 2024

A Home Run for Sun?

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SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – For Sun Microsystems (Quote, Chart), the unveiling of three major
here on Tuesday at the Palace Hotel was a huge relief. Sun’s
earlier first effort in the fast-growing blade (define) server market failed, and the company sat out the second phase of that market’s growth while HP, IBM and others cleaned up.

It’s also of particular relief to Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz, who is
nearing the end of his first 100 days in the top spot. “This is a pretty
important launch for me while I’m still in the honeymoon period,” he joked.

But Sun’s problems are no joke. The once high-flying computer maker has
been struggling to get back on the growth track it rode before the
dotcom bust, when its Sparc-based Web servers ruled. In recent years, Sun has embraced AMD’s 64-bit Opteron processor, a bet that was starting to pay
dividends even before today’s news of more Opteron-based systems.

“Dell’s been eating Sun’s lunch with x86 servers, but these new systems
show you can be x86 and bring a differentiated value,” Nathan Brookwood,
analyst with Insight64, told “This also shows Sun
hasn’t been needlessly burning through its R&D budget.” Sun spends nearly $2
billion a year on R&D.

One example of that payoff is the Sun Fire X4600, a 16-way, x64 server in a
single 4u chassis. (Even though its based on the x86 Opteron, Sun likes to
use the x64 designation for 64-bit as it plans to offer similar systems
based on its own Sparc processor next year).

Ditto the Sun Fire X4500, which Sun is calling the world’s first hybrid
data server. The system combines a four-way Opteron server with up to 24
terabytes (define) of storage, a density it said no other
server maker offers. Throughput of up to 2 gigabytes per second is also at
the leading edge of performance.

“Storage has been incredibly siloed since the rise of the standalone
storage products,” Gordon Haff, analyst with Illuminata, told “It’s a very intriguing product. What customers buy
is applications and Sun needs to partner with some folks to show what this
system can do.”

Sun’s chief architect, Andy Bechtolsheim said the Tokyo Institute of
Technology is already using fifty of the X4500s to, among other things, work
with large media files in parallel. “This is the kind of system you need to
collect every click on the Internet,” said Bechtolsheim.

Tim O’Reilly, the CEO of O’Reilly Media, was impressed enough with the
X4500 to say, “This is the Web 2.0 server.” O’Reilly’s company coined
the term “Web 2.0” (define).

With the Sun Blade 8000, Sun is putting its own stamp in the blade space
at the high end, aimed squarely at the data center. In addition to claiming
twice the I/O and longevity of the competition, Sun said the Blade 8000 has
up to 40 percent lower power requirements.

It’s also the first to offer
hot-pluggable blade I/O adapters based on the PCI Sig Express/Module
industry standard, which several vendors (Emulex, LSI Logic, Mellanox and
QLogic) have released products for or plan to.

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