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Sun throws new switch and three racks of metal at video

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At long last, Sun co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim's super secret switch has become not so secret.

Sun Microsystems today unveiled the x4950 streaming switch – the crucial component to a new video serving system.

The technology behind the box dates back to Bechtolsheim's start-up Kealia, which Sun acquired in 2004, bringing Bechtolsheim back to the company he helped found. With the x4950, Sun has again released a system quite different from anything else made by main rivals IBM, HP and Dell.

The beefy x4950 eats up 14U of rack space. It supports one to eight memory line cards, a controller card, three hot-swap power supplies, nine hot-swap fans, up to two 16-port 10GigE cards and a three port out of band management card.

Sun expects customers to combine the x4950 with its unusual x4500 storage server and x4100 Opteron-based server to form something it's calling the Streaming Server. This grand package can support up to 160,000 simultaneous, unique video streams at 2Mbps. The hardware maker brags that such stats hand it a 10x capacity lead over rivals.

The hardware relies on the aptly named Sun Streaming Software, which supports “more than 20 video streaming features, such as: MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 formats; bit-rate support from 1Mbps to 20 Mbps; standard-definition (SD) and high-definition (HD) streaming; encrypted and clear content streaming; at least six trick-play settings; Network Personal Video Recorder (nPVR) capabilities; and splicing and personalized playlists for permission-based target advertising.”

That's quite a mouthful.

Should customers buy into Sun's pitch, the company stands to sell a boatload of hardware. A “sample Streaming Server configuration” includes two of the x4950s, 16 x4500s and 20 x4100s. That hardware, spread across three racks, would handle 160,000 streams, 200,000 hours of content, 2,500 trick-plays per second, 1,000 session creates per second and 150 live ingest streams.

If you know what trick-plays and live ingest streams are, you're in better shape than we are.

Bechtolsheim has a knack for creating odd systems. He was also behind the x4500, which packs 24TBs of storage behind and Opteron-based server. Is it a server? Is it a storage box? What do you do with it? How much porn do you need to store? Who knows?

That said, Bechtolsheim's systems are famous for their solid engineering and have a track record of conquering new markets.

Starting tomorrow, you should be able to have a look at the x4950 here after Sun “officially” launches the product. ®

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