Sun talks two-wave server blade strategy

Gigabit Ethernet today, Infiniband blades tomorrow

SGI logo hardware close-up

Sun has outlined its server blade strategy. It's more of a meta-strategy right now, with more "meta" than "strategy", But at least Sun's talking.

Product will appear in the second half of this year, in 5x densities, with 15 CPUs in a 3u rack. Sun's director of blades development, Colin Fowles, told us that anything that falls far short of RLX-type densities would be a waste of time. RLX squeezes as many as 24 CPUs into a 3u space, and recently offered Intel-based blades alongside its Crusoe-based offerings.

He heaped a bucket of scorn over HP's blade strategy: HP has an ambitious program based on Compact-PCI, but dense it ain't.

"HP's blades are far too big: with 16 blades in a 13u box. Compact PCI doesn't give you that density," says Fowles.

Sun's blade initiative is two-fold: "wave one" involves getting something out of the door this year, based on Gigabit Ethernet.

But Fowles doesn't think a market for "larger business blades," will be mature until 2004, by which time Sun will have Infiniband-based blades.

"We'll have Infiniband from the blades to switches, and from the switches to the SAN".

Sun doesn't say what processor it's chosen for Wave One, just yet.

UltraSPARC II?

"We could," says Fowles.

Jalapeno, aka UltraSPARCIIIi?

"I can't tell you that."

Hmmm.

Sun says there'll be a redundant shelf service processor with a CPU in the first wave of blades.

"It's not a spare blade, it's just a processor over and above a blade," says Fowles. "But it gives you flexibility in administering a shelf"

He adds that there'll be two Layer-2 switches, providing a separate Ethernet network for the NAS storage, and separating the blade-to-blade traffic.

This sounds like a cabling mess to us, but Fowles said reducing cabling is a priority. "Even RLX's cabling is a mess," said Fowles. RLX actually has a pretty neat connector that carries both power and I/O to the blade, and we can't see how an Ethernet tangle would look any prettier.

But Sun blades won't be a host for new management software. "We're not trying to create that," said Fowles, promising that the Sun blades will talk to HP OpenView and other management systems. RLX continues to set the pace however, adding a "Control Tower" management server to its range at the Intel Developer Forum this week. ®

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