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Sun Microsystems has introduced the Sun Blade 6000 Modular System, which offers a choice of blades powered by the UltraSPARC T1 processor with CoolThreads technology, Intel Xeon processors, or AMD Opteron processors and supports Solaris, Windows, and Linux operating systems.

Its increased memory capacity and I/O bandwidth makes Sun Blade 6000 well positioned as a virtualization platform that supports large memory configurations and microprocessors with four and eight cores. The Sun Blade 6000 Modular System includes the Sun Blade 10 RU chassis that supports up to ten blades with up to four chassis per rack for a maximum capacity of 320 cores, 2.5TB of memory and 5TBps usable I/O throughput per rack.

There are three blades available. Sun Blade T6300 Server Module is a 1-socket UltraSPARC T1 blade, Sun Blade X6250 server module is a 2-socket Quad-Core Intel Xeon processor 5300 series-ready blade, and Sun Blade X6220 Server Module is a 2-socket Second-Generation AMD Opteron blade.

All aspects of the 6000 feature optimized cooling and airflow, industry standard PCI-Express I/O architecture and adapters, and support for the most standard management interfaces to facilitate easy integration into customers' existing blade or rack mount management infrastructure. The company also stated that the new blades, running Solaris 10, achieved the top industry-recognized Java, HPC, and compute-intensive benchmarks.

Also noted in the announcement is that the Sun Refresh Service now includes the Sun Blade X6220 Server Module with future support planned for the other server modules. The subscription service includes installation of the Sun Blade 6000 Modular System with server modules, plus three refreshes of server modules to the latest blade architecture over a 42-month period. The Sun Blade 6000 Modular System is available now, with entry-level pricing starting at $4,995 for the Sun Blade 6000 Chassis; $5,995 per server module for the Sun Blade T6300; $3,695 per server module for the Sun Blade X6250; and $3,995 per server module for the Sun Blade X6220.

The blade system horse race that is underway between HP, IBM, Sun, and Dell is chock full of competitive salvos and technological prowess that typifies the latest and greatest market opportunity in quite some time. HP, IBM, and Sun have now created at least two series of chassis each with its own stated leadership through a variety of interesting design approaches.

In this latest offering from Sun, the design criteria appear focused on the smaller, albeit not small, side of the scale. With the Blade 6000 Modular System, Sun has brought to market a blade environment that may not hit the current top of computing heights, but may just well deliver a cost-effective solution for the SMB marketplace.

The two-socket 1U rack market segment is an oft-quoted target for blade consolidation; however, blade solutions tend to not be cost-effective from an acquisition perspective unless the chassis is mostly filled to account for the fixed expense of switches and other interconnects installed in the chassis. Given Sun's penchant for using only standard switching interfaces such as PCI Express, the entry point for a 6000 series solution is notably less than some competitive offerings and is free of additional licensing costs associated with interconnect switches and thus may give the company some additional ammunition to attack the rack-and-stack solutions being sold by all the major systems vendors.

The Sun Blade 6000 series is similar to its big brother 8000 series in that it differentiates itself from competitors through expanded levels of RAM, fast I/O, high numbers of processor cores, and potentially low power consumption based upon processors selected. The Sun Blade X6250 represents Sun's first Intel Xeon-based and Sun's first quad-core based product. In addition, the systems management approach, the electronics on the blade, and hot pluggable I/O are also the same between the 6000 and 8000 series.

This is consistent with Sun's power and compute efficiency focus on the past couple of years but it also lets Sun compete head on for workloads such as streaming media, Internet infrastructure, and technical computing—all of which tend to be memory and I/O intensive. In addition, some of these workloads are ideal candidates for virtualized environments where the ability to support high levels of I/O and RAM assists in overall virtualization efficiency.

We are also intrigued by the support for four SAS disk drives on each blade along with corresponding SAS support on the midplane and backplane as well as PCI express modules. With some vendors steering the storage for blades discussion away from onboard disks, Sun clearly believes that there will be market demand for onboard storage with decent performance characteristics and a small package footprint. Similarly to IBM, Sun also supports its own RISC processor in its blade offerings, which allows customers to consolidate existing RISC-based UNIX applications alongside state-of-the-art Linux and Windows applications without a porting exercise. This is capability that is unique to these two players.

All the technology aside, perhaps the most innovative aspect of the new blade solution is its inclusion in the Sun Refresh Service. Sun has been in the forefront of adapting subscription models not only to its software offerings but, more importantly, to its hardware as well. By ensuring that organizations will have up to three refreshes of their technology over a 42-month period, Sun is effectively compressing the traditional technology refresh cycle of three to five or more years down to one.

Given the continued innovation in the server marketplace, this is should be a compelling alternative to the present model in which technology loses its cutting edge long before the depreciation completes. Financially, this model can permit smoothing out the expense incurred by bringing the cost born in closer alignment with the value derived, which is always a good thing. In the blade realm in particular, we see this approach as very compelling as organizations not only have the option of adding capacity incrementally as needed, but also to refresh the solution to current standards more frequently than they have had the option to do in the past.

Overall, this announcement is good for Sun as it broadens the blade opportunity that it can address, it is good for organizations seeking consolidated solutions for their future needs as well as providing a refresh alternative for their legacy SPARC servers, and it is good for the market at large as it continues the focus and innovative efforts around the blade platform. We expect that this is not the last we will hear on the topic from Sun, nor HP, nor IBM, and look forward to see what other blade focused initiatives the big boys will unveil as the summer progresses.

Copyright © 2007, The Sageza Group

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