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Sun travels to 'Andromeda' for blade server return

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For the first time in a long while, Sun Microsystems has managed to silence the moles and keep detailed specifications of an upcoming hardware line safe. We are, of course, talking about Sun's soon-to-be-released Opteron blade servers.

Sun's blade silence is understandable given the vendor's poor track record with slim servers. A year has passed since Sun pulled its slow selling Athlon- and SPARC-based blades. The failed blade exercise was an embarrassment for a company that prides itself on being a technology leader in the server market.

Instead of dominating or even participating in the blade game, Sun has watched as IBM and HP established themselves as the clear leaders in what has turned out to be the fastest growing part of the server market. And blade sales today keep on giving tomorrow as proprietary chassis designs lock customers in for the long haul. Sun used to have similar tactics mastered on the Unix front but has not been able to translate the experience to blades.

These blade woes should end later this month when Sun begins ramping production of its "Andromeda" line of Opteron-based blade servers.

So far, specifications of the Andromeda boxes are painfully light. A couple of sources say Sun will ship four- and eight-socket versions of its blades, and that's most of what we've got.

When reached for comment, Sun's server chief John Fowler would only cryptically say, "Size matters."

We'll take that as a confirmation of the eight-socket box or, um, something else.

A source inside of Sun provided a bit more information, but refused to dish any specifics.

"These systems have been engineered for vastly higher I/O bandwidth, thermal capability and RAS features than anything else on the market today," the insider said. "This will let us go through multiple processor generations from quad to octal core, and multiple memory and I/O generations without requiring changes in chassis, power supplies and other components."

Sun seems to be taking quite the different strategy from IBM, which changes its blade server power supplies about as often as Sam Palmisano changes his underwear.

The cheerleading Sun insider went so far as to claim that the blades will deliver "huge I/O without requiring a managed switch internal to the system." Sun plans to back the PCI SIG standard PCIe Express Module with all its might apparently. Sun can then offer customers and partners external, hot-swap I/O support.

HP is also expected to unleash its new blade server platform possibly as early as next week and should deliver a chassis somewhat similar to Sun. Advocates of this type of design are describing it as the "third-generation" of blade systems following the pioneering work done by RLX and then the first crop of product from the Tier 1s.

Sun should start shipping the blades later this month but may wait until late July or even August to officially announce the gear to the press and analysts. The company will likely include its X4600 eight-socket Opteron box and Thumper storage system at the same time.

All told, you can see that Sun is building out quite the impressive Opteron lineup. ®

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