Sun adds power to data centres

Sun Microsystems has unveiled two sets of technology for its high-end servers to give customers more choices for improving their...

Sun Microsystems has unveiled two sets of technology for its high-end servers to give customers more choices for improving their data centres.

The company has started shipping its Sun Fire Link interconnect for hooking together clusters of servers, targetting users in the high-performance computing market. The company also breathed new life into its COD (capacity on demand) program that lets customers pay discounted upfront rates for server processors which they can later "turn on" for a full price.

The Sun Fire Link interconnect - codenamed Wildcat - is Sun's answer for linking its midrange and high end servers into one, large computer. The technology works with its Sun Fire 6800, Sun Fire 12K and Sun Fire 15K systems and delivers up to 4.8Gbytes per second of bandwidth, said Steve Perrenod, group manager for high performance and technical computing at Sun. Customers can cluster together up to eight of Sun's servers with the interconnect.

Sun has been a vocal supporter of Infiniband - another type of high bandwidth, low latency interconnect - but rolled out Sun Fire Link to fill a gap in its arsenal while Infiniband matures, Perrenod said. The company already has a number of customers using Sun Fire Link, including the High Performance Computing Virtual Laboratory (HPCVL), a consortium of four Canadian universities.

"We are trying to give our users a bit of an edge and do it at the cheapest price," said Ken Edgecombe, executive director of HPCVL. "The performance we are seeing has outperformed anything else that's out there."

HPCVL has linked together a number of Sun systems and moved up to 196 on the list of the world's 500 top supercomputers, making it the top performing Canadian system.

Sun's COD program also gives its high end users a boost and brings back a program the company launched during the dotcom boom.

Like rivals IBM and Hewlett-Packard, Sun is looking to take some of the pain out of buying high-end servers by making it possible for customers to stretch out their payments for high-performing machines.

Users pay a lower initial cost for extra processors in Sun's midrange and high-end Sun Fire systems, then pay full price for the processors later when they are activated. The technology is available immediately in Sun's midrange systems and will be ready for the higher-end Sun Fire 12K and 15K servers in January of next year, said Chris Kruell, group marketing manager for enterprise systems at Sun.

"No matter how you pay for the processors, whether via COD or a straight purchase, the money is the same," Kruell said.

While Sun led the way with this type of technology, one analyst said HP has a more refined type of pricing plan that gives it an edge.

"HP is the closest to a real utility pricing model for processor capacity today," said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata. "Sun was the first to have COD out there, but I think they perhaps rested a little too much on their laurels."

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