Sun unveils blade server plans

Sun Microsystems is to join the blade server fray, but will not release a product until the later part of 2002.

Sun Microsystems is to join the blade server fray, but will not release a product until the later part of 2002.

Blade servers have been a hot topic during the past few months, with most of the major server vendors unveiling plans for the thin servers, which are designed to save space and lower power costs.

Hewlett-Packard (HP) showed off its line of blade servers this week and will begin shipping products in volume in January. Other companies such as Dell, IBM and Compaq will also unveil blade servers in 2002.

Sun has been unusually silent on the blade server front. However, the company this week released a few details about products it plans to ship possibly as late as December 2002.

"We won't be the first [company to release blade servers], that's true," said Colin Fowles, director of Sun's blade business team. "But we have been working on them and are at an advanced stage."

With its first products, Sun will try to fit five processors in every 1U (1.75in or 4.45cm) of server space. The company is looking to ship a 3U (5.25in) blade system that would house 15 processors, Fowles said.

Sun declined to provide any details on what type of chip its plans to use in the servers, but is looking at versions of both its UltraSparc II and UltraSparc III 64-bit chips. Racemi announced plans in September to build its own blade servers around the UltraSparc IIe chip.

Sun said it plans to beat HP on price by a "factor of two" per blade. HP began selling its server blades at $1,925 (£1,360) with one Pentium III 700Mhz chip.

"To compete for service providers and enterprises on things like hosting, caching and security, the cost and density has to much better than what HP has come out with," Fowles said.

He argued that HP's latest blade servers actually compete against Sun's line of Netra products, which are designed for the telecoms market. Companies such as Dell, IBM and Compaq are likely to join Sun by packing as many chips as possible in the 3U space, Fowles said.

Sun also hopes to develop a chassis design that will make it easy to swap blades on the fly and keep cables out of users' way. The company will offer users some power-saving features as well, Fowles said.

Sun will look into technology developed by Infiniband supporters, as well as technology from the PCI Industrial Computer Manufacturers Group (PICMG), for data transfer interfaces in the blades.

The systems will run Sun's Solaris operating system, a popular flavour of Unix.

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