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Sun exits blade server market . . . for now

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If you're looking to buy a blade server in the near future, then Sun Microsystems won't be your supplier of choice.

Sun has pulled its entire line of Sparc-, Xeon- and Athlon-based blades and its Sun Fire B1600 Blade chassis. The company last year notified customers of its plan to end-of-life this kit and then went ahead and whacked the boxes in the last few weeks. Now, Sun's online stores are void of any blade servers at all, meaning the server powerhouse is missing out on one of the fastest growing, lucrative parts of the server market.

"Sun are working on the next generation of the blade platform, but it is in early stages at present and so there the information is very minimal," a Sun representative told The Register.

Sun has yet to respond to our questions about what exactly customers are meant to do while they await new gear. A couple of Sun users have complained that they were forced to invest in the B1600 chassis, which could hold both UltraSPARC and x86 blades, only to see Sun flake on its commitment to the product.

Being relatively new, blades are less standardized than usual rack-mount servers. The variety of blade chassis from the likes of HP, IBM and Dell has forced many customers to try and focus their data centers around one vendor's architecture.

Few customers, however, committed to Sun's line of systems. IBM holds 39 per cent of the blade market, followed by HP with 35 per cent and Dell with 10 per cent, according to the latest figures from IDC. Sun has rarely appeared on the blade server trackers despite having gear around for sometime.

Publicly, Sun has told customers to expect a second-generation of blade servers in 2006. In this new set of systems, customers will find an Opteron-based server and a new chassis. It's less clear if Sun intends to release another Sparc-based blade.

Every month that passes without a blade system means that Sun is missing out on the hottest part of the market. Blade server sales increased 106 per cent year-over-year in Q1, according to IDC. Blades tend to go out the door loaded with specialized software and components as well, making them higher-margin product than typical 1U servers.

The compact servers have become so prized that HP and IBM ordered their sales staffers to stop at nothing in their pursuit of blade customers. The two companies would clearly like to put even more distance between themselves and Dell and Sun.

Overall, it's not a bad idea for Sun to have another crack at its blade design. The first go clearly didn't work, and people were hesitant to buy into Sun as a blade vendor. That's no surprise given IBM, HP and Dell's strength in the x86 market where most blade server sales occur.

Sun has vowed to become a big time x86 player and could use an Opteron-focused, as opposed to Sparc-focused, approach. In addition, Sun may want to develop a new chassis that can hold systems based on its homemade multicore chips, which are due out in 2006.

Still, it's disappointing to see one of the world's major server vendors have no product to offer customers in this space. It's also a bit funny to see Sun lose one of its supposedly showcase items. Sun often bragged that it took a real R&D powerhouse to get blade designs right and used blades to sell some of its more sophisticated management software. Oh well. ®

Related stories

Itanium and Opteron fight for significance
Microsoft nose-to-nose with Unix server rivals
IBM outfits blade servers with cheap middleware for the masses
HP, Sun and IBM ready to roll with dual-core Opteron gear
Egenera freshens blades with a touch of Opteron

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