Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/07/06/sun_opteron_out/

Sun to replace excuses with loads of Opteron gear

Meet the new servers

By Ashlee Vance

Posted in Servers, 6th July 2006 20:03 GMT

Exclusive Sun Microsystems next week will introduce the world to its latest gamble. The hardware maker is set to dish out a number of new Opteron-based systems – some of which will be like nothing else on the market from a Tier 1. All told, Sun's grand hardware release caps off a three- to four-year effort meant to revitalize sales and make Sun hot again.

Sun, of course, hasn't dished out any specifics on the upcoming servers to reporters. It's saving the details for an event in San Francisco on Tuesday. Sun's silence, however, hasn't stopped us from digging up much of the dirt.

The most intriguing new system to arrive from Sun will be the x4500. We've been writing about this system for years using its "Thumper" code-name. As we predicted long ago, the x4500 will ship with 48 SATA drives (250-500GB), 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 the requisite 48 HDD connections.

Sun has leaked out a few of these boxes to select customers with 2.4GHz dual-core Opteron 280s inside.

This server was originally designed by Sun co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim at his start-up Kealia. It has taken Sun ages to get the product to market, which is mostly a result of Solaris work (the ZFS file system) that needed to be completed.

Sun will pitch this system as a high-performing media server type box that obviously has an humungous amount of storage in a 4U case.

With 16GB of memory and 12TB of storage, the system starts at $33,000, according to a price list obtained by The Register. It then ranges up to $70,000 for 24TB of storage, and Sun will do big customers a deal on a x4500 10-pack, selling 24TB systems for $470,000.

Next up, customers can expect to see Sun's new line of Opteron-based blades. Sun has full-height blades code-named Andromeda and half-height blades code-named Constellation.

Specifics on the blades have been harder to come by, although Sun's latest price lists show a new Sun Blade X8000 chassis and Sun Blade X8400 server. One Sun customer claimed that the new chassis will be 10U, but we're seeing a 19U monster on Sun's price list for $5,000.

Sun looks to be selling the four-socket X8400 with 870, 875 and 885 Series Opteron chips from AMD at prices ranging from $14,600 to $33,000.

Sun is also hammering away on an UltraSPARC-based blade code-named Montoya, but that system is not likely to be released next week.

The last major system to arrive from Sun will be the eight-socket X4600, which we have profiled in the past here.

Away from the x86 systems, we've spotted the V215 and V445 servers, which seem like basic upgrades to the UltraSPARC IIIi-based V210 and V440 systems.

Looked at in isolation, these boxes are nothing more than Sun filling out its fledgling x86 lineup. There, however, does seem to be a much larger story at hand.

Sun's new Opteron gear along with its UltraSPARC T1-based servers will have to carry the vendor until the Rock processor family arrives in 2008.

We'll grant you that "carry" seems an odd word choice there given that the standard UltraSPARC-based server sales still make up the vast majority of Sun's revenue. And that's not likely to change as Sun goes through the awkward process of trading in UltraSPARC IV for Fujitsu's flavor of SPARC.

But Sun can't afford to keep coasting as it has done over the past couple of years.

The company kept promising customers, analysts and reporters that it was preparing a bright future to make up for a large post-bubble strategy misfire. It went x86. It bought multi-core SPARC specialist Afara. It brought Andy Bechtolsheim back home. Sun even went so far as to send Scott McNealy upstairs and give Jonathan Schwartz the CEO post, with both men saying that Schwartz would reap the rewards of Sun's two-year stabilization effort.

Sun has now tossed out a few "iPod moments," as it likes to call them. You have the UltraSPARC T1-based servers, an eight-socket Opteron box and the x4500 system. All of these systems are unique compared to what other Tier 1s are offering, and unique has served Sun well in the past.

It's hard to imagine Sun looking that much better than it does today without two or even all three of these new boxes taking off.

Granted, Sun's rapidly growing mainstream x86 server line will provide the most significant boost to revenue gains. But that's going to be a real slugfest where Sun has to go up against IBM, HP and Dell – all of which support both Xeon and Opteron.

For Sun to stand-out again and to drive interest in Solaris, which is key to the company's future, it must have an exceptional, surprising seller. It needs some systems that really capture customers' attention and separate Sun from the herd.

Investors don't seem to think Sun has an iPod moment in the works. They sent shares of Sun below the $4 mark today for the first time since December of last year.

We know that Sun insiders are tired of being beaten up in the press. They're tired of being counted out as DEC junior.

Well, Sun's test to prove the critics wrong begins next week. The company will have completed its most major product revamp since the dotcom bust.

The time to make excuses will have come to an end. ®