Hardware Today: Sun Server Snapshot

by Drew Robb

There's no doubt about it: Sun is rising. While UltraSPARC is the cash cow, Opteron-based servers are making a positive impact.

Sun is certainly having a good year. Recent numbers from both IDC and Gartner confirm the company appears to be back on track. According to IDC, Sun gained almost a two percent leap in overall server market share in the second quarter of 2006 compared with the same quarter last year. That gives the vendor at 12.9 percent total server market share and makes it the top Unix server vendor.

"Sun continued its strong server revenue performance in consecutive quarters and regained the number 3 overall market share position," says Steve Josselyn, an analyst at IDC. "The clear majority of Sun's server revenue is generated from UltraSPARC-based systems, but the growth in the company's Opteron-based products is having a positive impact."

Known by Sun as X64 (meaning 64-bit Opteron-based servers), this has become a hot segment for the company. It expanded its X64 product line with six new products over the course of 2006. These range from 1- to 16-way x64 rack servers.

Recent Server Snapshots

In addition, Sun has been storming ahead with the chip multithreading technology (CMT) build into its UltraSPARC servers.

"We gained a big chunk of market share, especially due to CMT products such as the T1000 and T2000," says Warren Mootrey, senior director of Volume SPARC Systems at Sun Microsystems. of Santa Clara, Calif. "These two servers alone generated over $100 million in sales during the second quarter."

Sun doesn't have the same level of big news as covered in its last server snapshot.

While there is nothing to match the release of CoolThreads and the T1000 and T2000 servers, there is still plenty going on.

The company doubled the amount of memory available on all midrange and high-end servers, from the Sun Fire V490 up to Sun Fire E25K. And last month it extended its CoolThreads CMT line by added two telco versions.

The Netra T2000 is similar to the standard T2000 but also is NEBS-compliant — an industry standard for telcos. The blade addition is known as the Star Wars-like moniker of Netra CP3060. As well as being in accordance with NEBS, it includes the T1 UltraSPARC chip (four, six or eight core, four threads per core) and up to 16 GB memory.

"The Netra blade means we can provide 12 blades per chassis and three chassis' in a rack," says Mootrey. "That's 1,600 less watts per rack compared to Intel-based servers."

But it's the T2000 that Sun wants to talk about. At an entry price of $8,000, it appears that Sun was surprised by just how well it has done since its release. Mootrey reports that it's being used for a wide range of functions, including Web server, small database server, SAP systems, financial applications and Web farms.

Sun has also refreshed its volume SPARC platforms. The Sun Fire V210, 240 and 440 have been replaced by the V215, 245 and 445 respectively. These are mainly incremental upgrades to PCI functionality, the addition of hardware RAID to the motherboard., and a processor hike from 1.3 GHz to 1.5 GHz.

When I'm X64
As mentioned earlier, Sun has added several new x64 products so far this year.

"Sun saw the advantages of x64 architecture three years ago," says Pradeep Parmar, x64 product line business driver at Sun. "More recently, major OEMs like IBM and Dell have announced expanded x64 product lines, which validates our approach."

He said he believes that server sprawl and constraints on power, cooling and space within the data center are accelerating the trend towards consolidation through virtualization. He gives the example of NewEnergy Associates (a Siemens Company) realizing an 18:1 server consolidation ratio using Sun Fire X4200 servers (see next week's Sun case study for more details).

Its X64 offerings are helping Sun make rapid inroads into the overall x86 marketplace, particularly its Galaxy family. These, says Parmar, are fast, energy-efficient and reliable. They run runs Solaris, Linux, Windows and VMware.

"The market response to Galaxy has been fantastic," he says. "Sun went from number 16 to number 6 in x86 server factory revenue market share in less than two years."

Now the company has expanded this server family with a trio of new models: the Sun Fire X4500, X4600 and Sun Blade 8000 Modular System. All run AMD Opteron dual-core processors.

The X4600 is a 4- to 16-way rack server in a 4U footprint that can run Solaris, Linux, Windows and VMware. Parmar says enterprise customers are using Sun Fire X4600 servers for server consolidation, databases, ERP, CRM, business intelligence, grid applications and supercomputing.

"The Sun Fire X4600 enables a modular computing platform that scales with growing applications and provides investment protection to our customers," says Parmar. "The design makes it possible to upgrade the server to quad-core AMD Opteron processors in future without doing a box-swap."

Sun followed that up by releasing a couple of low-end machines. The Sun Fire X2100 M2 is a 1U, 2-way rack server. The Sun Fire X2200 M2 is a 1U 2- to 4-way rack server.

The X2200 M2 is said to be the fastest 2- to 4-way server in a 1U footprint. It has as much as 28 percent lower power/cooling costs compared to Xeon servers, says Parmar. Its arrival, however, heralded the end of the road for the Sun Fire V20z server.

In addition, he mentions that the Solaris 10 operating system is doing very well since it went open source. Startups, for example, deploy Solaris on Sun Fire x64 servers as a way to keep costs low.

"We have had almost six million downloads of OpenSolaris, with a majority of the downloads on x86-64, including Sun, HP, IBM and Dell machines," says Parmar. "Solaris 10 is certified on more than 705 x86/x64 systems."

New Dawn for Sun
What's on the horizon for the rest of this year? The x64 line is fairly quiet. The next generation Opteron processor will be folded into several Sun Fire servers in the fall. Otherwise, however, little else will change until 2007.

It is a similar story on the SPARC front. Mootrey, though, is enthusiastic about what lies further ahead — the arrival of the next generation UltraSPARC chipset in the second half of 07. Known as Niagara 2, it is a CMT chip that will double the performance of the existing version and add better encryption. Although it remains an eight-core chip, the number of threads will be raised from 32 to 64," says Mootrey. "We have managed to keep the same amount of power consumption yet double the performance."

Sun Servers at a Glance

 Entry-Level ServersSun Fire UltraSPARC T1 CoolThreads ServersMidrange ServersHigh-End ServersCarrier-Grade Servers
Target DeploymentsApplication development; EDA; security; portal server; Web server; application server; database, application consolidation, OLTP, CRM, ERP, DNS, HTTP, and FTP services; and Internet gatewayWeb Server, identity or directory server, portal server, application integration, index, search, edge or network node; Java application servers; enterprise application servers (ERP and CRM); and Web tier consolidationServer consolidation; application serving; BIDW (database, decision support, and datamart); business processing (ERP, CRM, OLTP, and batch); IT Infrastructure (directory servers, systems, and network management); application development; scientific engineering; and collaborationServer consolidation; BIDW (database, decision support, and datamart); business processing (ERP, CRM, OLTP, and batch); IT infrastructure (directory servers, systems, and network management); high-performance technical computing; and decision support systemsTelecom applications: high-availability and reliability telecom applications, including wireless, 3G, signaling, operations, management, network infrastructure, VoIP, softswitch, military, embedded applications, ruggedized and OEM environments
Processor TypeUltraSPARC IIi, IIIi, and AMD OpteronUltraSPARC T1UltraSPARC IV+, III, and dual-core AMD OpteronUltraSPARC IV+UltraSPARC IIi, III, and IIIi
Operating SystemSolaris 8, 9, and 10 (on SPARC); Solaris 9 and 10, Red Hat, SUSE, Windows, and VMware (on x64 systems)Solaris 10Solaris 8, 9, and 10, Linux, Windows, and VMwareSolaris 8, 9, and 10Solaris 8, 9, and 10
ServersSun Fire (SPARC)

Sun Fire (Opteron)

Sun Grid Rack System
Sun Fire
Netra CP3060 Blade
Netra T2000 Server
Sun Fire
Netra 1280
Sun Fire
Netra Processor Blades

Netra Servers
Sun Blade 8000 Modular System
Price RangeFrom $2,995From $2,995Sun fire V480, starting at $19,995, to Sun Fire E6900, starting at $241,490Priced individually based on customer configurationFrom $3,395; chassis at $4,995; 8-way server module from $14,600

This article was originally published on Monday Oct 2nd 2006
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