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Sun finally crafts proper x86 and SPARC blades

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Contrary to public perception, Sun Microsystems does want to play in the mainstream blade server market.

Sun today revealed yet another take on blade systems, showing a compact chassis that holds Opteron-, Xeon- and UltraSPARC T1-based servers. The new Sun Blade 6000 chassis compares favorably with existing systems from blade leaders HP and IBM. More importantly, the chassis should prove much more appealing to the average customer than Sun's hefty Blade 8000 chassis released last year.

"This system is aimed squarely at the volume heart of the blade marketplace," said Sun's server chief John Fowler. "It's a fully functional replacement of what you might expect from a rackmount server."

Customers can slot up to 10 of the dual-socket (x86)/single socket(SPARC) blades in the 10U chassis. The ability to mix x86 and SPARC systems in the chassis could prove attractive to some Sun customers, although the vendor has tried and failed before at the neapolitan approach.

Customers will likely find Sun's take on I/O more impressive. They can purchase off-the-shelf PCI Express adapters that plug into the rear of the Blade 6000 chassis. HP and IBM often require customers to shell out for custom I/O gear to accommodate their proprietary chassis designs. The rivals can also demand up to $30,000 in networking gear alone to have any I/O at all in their boxes.

HP has enjoyed the strongest blade sales of late due to its impressive c-Class chassis design. Customers can squeeze 8 full-height or 16 half-height blades (x86 and Itanium) into the 10U system.

Sun cannot match HP's density but claims an edge where memory and storage are concerned. For example, Sun has made room for 16 DIMMs and 4 HDDs per blade versus 8 DIMMS and 2 HDDs for HP's half-height blades or 12 DIMMs and 4 HHDs for HP's full-height blades. Sun also has twice the I/O.

"We used to have a blade chassis that had more systems and did less," Fowler said. "We learned from experiment."

To Fowler's point, Sun exited the blade market in 2005 after failing to make any meaningful headway with the Sun Fire B1600 chassis. Then, Sun returned to blades last year with hulking 19U and 14U chassis designs that make use of four-socket Opteron-based systems.

So, Sun notably now has three different blade server chassis designs versus one design each from HP and IBM and a single upcoming design, very similar to HP's c-Class, from Dell.

Fowler, however, defended Sun's extravagance. He noted that the larger blade designs were already underway when Sun brought co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim back to the company via its Kealia acquisition. In addition, Sun expects such wide blade adoption that it's willing to go after both the low- and high-ends of the market.

"I am very confident these systems will show returns from an R&D standpoint," Fowler said.

HP and IBM currently own about 80 per cent of the blade server market with a variety of vendors splitting the remaining sales.

Following a launch event later today, Sun will issue more detailed specifications on its new blades. Customers can expect to see the Sun Blade 6000 Modular System chassis and the T6300 (SPARC) blade, the X6250 (quad-core Xeon) blade and the X6220 (Opteron) blade. ®

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