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Sun takes the Opteron highroad

Where blades are bloated and oddities thrive

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At long last, Sun Microsystems has concocted an x86 server line that all customers can take seriously. The company today rounded out its Opteron-based gear with three, new systems that stretch from "compact" blades to bulkier eight-socket boxes.

Regular Register readers will be well acquainted with the new servers. We've been writing about a couple of the boxes for two years and profiled all of the systems last week.

Still, we'll roll out the official details as Sun dished them.

At the high-end, Sun introduced the x4600. This 4U system starts out as a two-socket unit and can scale up to eight-sockets, giving Sun one of the largest x86 SMPs among the Tier 1s.

Sun has been handing out the x4600 to prized customers for months. In fact, hundreds of the servers currently sit at the Tokyo Institute of Technology as part of a massive cluster. The system grabbed the number seven spot on the most recent list of Top 500 supercomputers, making it the second fastest x86 system after a Xeon-based unit built by Dell for Sandia National Laboratories.

The server starts at $26,000, but then you knew that already.

On the blade server front, Sun has decided to announce its Sun Blade 8000 server module, which starts at $14,600.

This is actually the 19U chassis that will house both Sun's x86 and SPARC-based blades, although for some reason Sun has declined to announce its blades at this time. Customers won't be fooled by Sun's secrecy since the x8400 Opteron-based blades that eat up 10U of chassis space have already started appearing on Sun's price list.

The 19U chassis size seems astonishing to us.

HP, for example, just put out a new C-class blade system that uses a 10U chassis. HP slots blades, networking, storage, fans and power supplies in that entire package.

Sun only lets you stack 10 four-socket blades in the first 10U of its 19U chassis, leaving 9U for fans, power supplies and other accouterment. HP customers can slot eight four-socket blades in their 10U systems.

"Yes, they are more dense than Sun is, but our system is designed for the future," a spokesman told us.

And what a bloated future that must be.

It's fair enough that Sun wants to leave room for changes in networking or storage or whatever, but shipping a product nearly twice the size of a major rival seems odd in the compact blade space. Not to mention that you can fit three of HP's C-class enclosures in a single, 42U rack to only two of Sun's enclosures.

The x8400 blades are four-socket Opteron bad boys, placing Sun at the high-end once again. The company plans to release two- and possibly eight-socket blades over time. Regular Sun watchers will know to plan for a later rather than sooner arrival.

The last system is our favorite box - the x4500. This sucker has 48 SATA drives, two Opteron sockets, 10 hot swap fans, two half-height PCI cards, hot-swap power supplies, four Gigabit Ethernet ports and a SATA backplane with 48 HDD connections.

This system comes straight from Sun co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim's start-up Kealia. Apparently, the box used to be one part of a larger media server type system. In typical fashion, it has taken Sun a couple of years to strip away whatever special sauce tied together the whole media server thingy, leaving customers with a 4U oddity packed to the gills with storage.

The x4500 appears to be vintage Bechtolhsheim with standard components arranged in a unique, compact fashion. The good news for Sun is that no one else sells anything like this right now. The bad news is that it won't be hard for rivals to replicate if they sense a flood of demand.

This system starts at $32,995.

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