Sun pitches big x86 server for virtualization projects

Users not sure if eight-socket, dual-core servers are needed yet

Sun Microsystems Inc. this week plans to announce new x86-based server products, including one that can support up to eight dual-core chips. In doing so, Sun is betting that IT managers will increasingly move to large systems as part of a consolidation and virtualization strategy.

Most business users today rely on two-socket systems, so moving to eight sockets is a big step up. Analysts said eight-socket models are a tiny part of the x86 server market, and not all vendors sell them. IBM sells eight-socket x86 systems. However, Hewlett-Packard Co. last year dropped an eight-socket system it had introduced in 2003.

The new Sun Fire x4600 runs Advanced Micro Design Inc.'s Opteron chip, which can scale from two to eight sockets. It's "really a virtualization platform that allows customers to consolidate dozens or more conventional two-socket systems that never get fully utilized," said Andy Bechtolsheim, Sun's chief architect and senior vice president for network systems.

Bob Pappagianopoulos, corporate director of technical services and operations at Partners HealthCare System Inc. in Boston, said he hasn't needed to go beyond four sockets for any of his x86-based applications. But the health care provider is testing virtualization, and that could lead to the use of larger servers to support multiple applications, Pappagianopoulos said.

"If we're successful on putting many applications on a four-way, then we may look to expand," he said. "But I don't see us doing that in the next one to two years."

Charles Orndorff, vice president of infrastructure services at Crossmark Holdings Inc. in Plano, Texas, is a user of HP's discontinued eight-socket system who has switched to buying HP's four-socket, dual-core systems. Although pleased with the four-socket performance, he said he isn't ruling out the need for eight sockets at some point, but he quickly added that quad-core chips are coming.

Sun expects that some early users will be high- performance computing sites, such as the Tokyo Institute of Technology, which bought 655 of the x4600 servers to create a supercomputer that's ranked the seventh-fastest in the world. Satoshi Matsuoka, head of computing infrastructures at Tokyo Tech, said the university wanted a system that's compatible with traditional supercomputers -- "very fat nodes, with lots of CPUs and memory per node." Each physical server is a node.

This week, Sun is also expected to release its Sun Fire x4500 data server, which uses a two-socket Opteron chip and comes with up to 24TB of storage in 48 500GB drives. Sun said this product, which was code-named Thumper, isn't a replacement for traditional storage systems but will speed up storage-intensive applications such as video searching and business intelligence.

IDC analyst Jean Bozman said that by bringing together storage and computing elements, Sun will be able to take out network latency and improve throughput and performance. "Large servers put memory close to processors," she said. "This is similar thinking."

New Sun Products
These systems, which run AMD Opteron dual-core chips, will be available this month:

Sun Fire x4600

Can scale from two to eight sockets and fit into a 4U chassisSupports Solaris, Windows and LinuxPricing: $25,995 for four sockets

Sun Fire x4500 Data Server

Two sockets, plus up to 24TB of storageSupports Solaris and its Zettabyte File SystemPricing: Starts at $32,995 for the 12TB configuration

Sun Blade 8000 Modular Systems

Chassis that can support 10 four-socket bladesSupports Solaris, Windows and LinuxPricing: $14,600 for one blade and chassis

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon