Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Server Wars, Part II: Sun Fires Back At IBM

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A day after IBM Corp. renewed its offensive on the midrange server space by adding the eServer p670 to its lineup, Sun
Microsystems Inc. struck back Tuesday by unleashing the Sun Fire 12K.

The Sun Fire 12K fits between Sun’s midrange Sun Fire 6800 and Sun Fire 15K servers, and features the Uniboard — an interchangeable
CPU/memory board shared across all Sun servers from the Sun Fire Midframes to the 15K. It supports up to nine Dynamic System Domains
and up to 52 900 MHz UltraSPARC III processors, and offers 288 GB of memory. It runs on Solaris 8.

Other features include high-speed Fireplane Interconnect, hardware redundancy, online and on-the-fly service and upgrades, Sun
Enterprise and Professional Services, StorEdge solutions, and the ability to field upgrade to the Sun Fire 15K.

The server targets the midrange market which has traditionally been a playground for IBM and Hewlett-Packard, but with this release
Sun plans to take the space away from them.

“We plan to go right at them in the half a million dollars to million dollar space,” said Shahin Khan, chief competitive officer for
Sun. He added, “This will slam the door shut in the face of Regatta and Superdome and systems like that.”

Sun calls the 12K its “Regatta Killer” and points to the Uniboard CPU/memory board as the proof. Because the Uniboard is
transportable and interchangeable among all of Sun’s Sun Fire 3800-15K systems, the company said it drives down the cost of
application provisioning and is a key differentiator for customers looking to lower total cost of ownership and improve return on
investment. The company said the Uniboard packaging allows customers to plan and manage entire application deployments rather than
focus on one system at a time. Additionally, the Dynamic System Domains are intended to enable flexible resource management in the

“With the Sun Fire 12K server, Sun will capitalize on a previously untapped market segment,” said Rich Partridge, enterprise systems
analyst at D.H. Brown Associates. “By employing the same technology as found in their well-received Sun Fire 15K, Sun now provides
enterprise-class dynamic partitioning and concurrent serviceability at an attractive $500,000 price tag. The scalability of the Sun
Fire 12K, along with its easy upgrade to the Sun Fire 15K, offers substantial performance headroom with investment protection.”

Also, Sun said that unlike IBM’s pSeries technology, its technology and common system components allow for on-the-fly upgrade
capability that allow data centers to scale according to peak demand, while its design architecture allows for mixed CPU support.

In fact, Sun claimed that its 12K blows the comparable IBM p690 out of the water, featuring memory bandwidth of 29 GB/s as opposed
to 21 GB/s, and I/O bandwidth of 7 GB/s as opposed to 4.8 GB/s.

“The performance of a p690 is a lot like buying a junk bond,” Khan said. “In other words, buyer beware.”

The statement was an allusion to IBM’s server-on-a-chip technology, which places 2 CPUs on a single chip. The p690 supports up to 16
of these chips. However, Khan said that because those dual CPUs need to share resources, customers are only getting effective CPUs
per chip of between 1.5 and 1.8. According to Khan, that means p690 customers are only getting about 24 to 28 total effective CPUs,
as opposed to the 52 they would get with the 12K.

“We think that the p690, on a good day, is slightly faster than our 6800,” Khan said.

Sun is targeting the 12K at enterprises looking at server consolidation and mainframe rehosting.

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