Sun Gets Competitive With New Blade Family

After a slow start, Sun Microsystems got serious about the blade server market with today’s announcement (http://www.sun.com/aboutsun/pr/2007-06/sunflash.20070606.1.xml) of the Sun Blade 6000 family. The blades are built on a new 10U chassis design that makes strong use of PCI-Express to provide a density and serviceability advantage. The new chassis supports blades based on AMD, Intel, and Sun processor designs (first blades to use the T1 processor) but ups the memory density on the dual-Opteron and dual-Xeon blades to a maximum of 64GBs. This is achieved by increasing the DIMM per processor count to eight and using 2GB DIMMs (the Sun T1-based blades take advantage of this as well, but are uniprocessor). On the I/O front, Sun also leverages PCI-Express to divorce I/O from each blade entirely. This allows higher I/O port count per blade and hot-swap of the I/O ports from the back of the chassis.

These improvements in memory and I/O density will favor customers who plan to deploy these blades for virtualized environments. The higher DIMM count also lets customers purchase lower cost 32GB configurations by using less expensive 1GB DIMMs.

While it is unclear if Dell, HP, and IBM will follow suit with this use of PCI-Express, for now Sun has a first mover advantage and is using this technology effectively to distinguish its offering.

Sun has also differentiated these blades through the Sun Refresh Service program by timing the upgrade appropriately. This subscription-based program that provides a complete refresh of the blade chassis with updated processors and memory is timed at 42 months after initial purchase, which falls right in the sweet spot of most enterprises’ normal server refresh cycle (3-5 years). 

While we do not expect this announcement to sway non-Sun customers into their camp, the new blades should influence existing Sun customers who have remained on the fence about their blade offerings to date. To that end we expect sales of the Sun Blade 6000 will come at the expense of Sun rack servers rather than competing blades and in general help grow the overall blade server market.

James Staten, Principal Analyst

Do you plan to deploy the new Sun Blades? If so, with what applications? How will you take advantage of the increased memory?

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