Sun adds Opteron and updates Ultrasparc servers

Sun Microsystems has unveiled its Opteron servers along with servers based on the latest edition of its UltraSparc processor in a...

Sun Microsystems has unveiled its Opteron servers along with servers based on the latest edition of its UltraSparc processor in a bid to reverse its recent slide with new products and new technologies.

The company became the second major server vendor to release systems based on Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron processor with the introduction of the Sun Fire V20z. It will be available in one-processor and two-processor configurations in April, said Neil Knox, executive vice president for volume systems at Sun.

Sun also updated its Solaris servers with its UltraSparc IV processor, the company's first multicore processor, said Clark Masters, executive vice president of enterprise system products.

Five new Sun Fire systems will sell alongside older UltraSparc III-based systems as they are rolled out over the next few months.

The new servers represent both a new direction for Sun as well as an extension of the technology that made the company one of the world's leading server vendors. Sun was alone among the major server suppliers in the late 1990s in that it refused to release a server based on the x86 instruction set running Intel processors, concentrating instead on its powerful but expensive 64-bit servers running its Solaris operating system.

However, as technology budgets shrank over the past few years, customers snapped up low-cost Intel servers from Dell, Hewlett-Packard and IBM. The Unix server market stagnated while servers based on Microsoft Windows or Linux flew off shelves, and Sun was left with shrinking revenues and quarterly losses.

However, Sun has stepped up its pursuit of the x86 market with new rack and blade systems. At Comdex in November, it announced it would support AMD's Opteron processor with the most complete line of Opteron servers planned by a major supplier to date, said Dirk Meyer, senior vice president for computational products at AMD.

IBM also sells Opteron servers, but has focused mainly on the high-performance computing market with its eServer 325. Sun's participation gives AMD a change to crack the corporate data centre market ,in which it has little experience, said Jamie Gruener, senior analyst at The Yankee Group .

Opteron allows customers to run 32-bit and 64-bit applications on their servers, provided they have a 64-bit operating system. Sun ported Solaris to Opteron, and will also make Red Hat and SuSE Linux's 64-bit versions of Linux available on the server, Knox said.

Gruener believed most customers would choose to run Linux on the Opteron server, adding that Linux is simpler and cheaper to maintain than Solaris, which has a number of high-end features that would be unnecessary for these users.

A base configuration of the Sun Fire V20z costs $2,795 with a single Opteron 242 processor, 1Gbyte of PC2700 (333MHz) DDR (double data rate) SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM), a 36Gbyte hard drive, a built-in Ultra320 SCSI controller, dual Gigabit Ethernet slots, and two PCI-X (peripheral component interconnect - extended) slots. The server ships without an operating system, but both Linux and Solaris licences are available for less than $300 from Sun.

Sun also announced its B200x blade server, which uses Intel's Xeon processor in a 3U blade form factor. Prices start at $3,790

While the Opteron products are designed for application servers and web servers, the new UltraSparc IV models are expected to do more heavy work, such as databases and transaction processing.

The new chip is two UltraSparc III processors integrated onto a single die, almost doubling the performance of the new servers compared with UltraSparc III servers when running applications such as SAP's management software and Oracle's databases,.

UltraSparc IV is also designed to work more efficiently with multiple software threads used by the Solaris operating system. Customers can plug the new processors directly into their servers without having to reboot the server.

Sun also improved the floating point performance of the new chip, an important step for the high-performance computing market, and will improve the performance of most business applications.

The five new servers run the gamut from four-way servers to a system with 72 UltraSparc IV processors. They cost between $98,955 and $825,000, and will be rolled out over the next few months.

Two other Sun Fire servers will be upgraded with faster UltraSparc III processors. The V210 and V240 now come with the 1.28GHz UltraSparc III processor and will cost less than the older versions with the 1GHz processor.

Tom Krazit writes for IDG News Service

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