Sun Unveils New Xeon-based “Open Network” Servers

Sun says its Nehalem product line is “significantly differentiated” from other Xeon 550-based systems in a very crowded market.

The way officials from Sun Microsystems Inc. act, you wouldn't guess that the erstwhile Unix giant was almost gobbled up by IBM Corp. last month.

At Sun's most recent x64 Open Network Systems launch, in typical Sun fashion the company was long on both specifics and bravado.

Sun’s recently announced a line of new Xeon 550-based servers, complete with what Han Solo might call "a lot of special modifications" -- including "Cooling Doors," Sun's proprietary thermal management technology.

Sun announced two entry-level servers (the Sun Fire X4270 and Sun blade X6270); a quartet of enterprise and Web server products (the Sun Fire X4170, X2270, X4275, and Ultra 27 workstation); and a new high-performance technical computing (HPTC) offering, the Sun Blade X6275 server module.

Along with these deliverables, Sun also touted several value-adds. Besides its "Cooling Doors" thermal management technology, Sun is also encompassing an integrated flash module (complete with onboard I/O integration), new solid state disk (SSD) drives, and new "network express modules" (NEMs). Sun's flash module boasts speeds of up to 100 times those of conventional rotational media, says Dimitrios Dovas, director of product management at Sun. Its SSD drives -- which it obtains from an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) source -- can perform 70 times as fast. .

"[T]here are a few [SSD] providers, yes. I think the secret sauce here is how we have engineered our motherboards. We built [our motherboards] with a server-centric architecture, it's only available to Sun -- so the way we've integrated the I/O architecture, our flash module -- we've done a lot of work on our own in order to get this integration," he explains.

Aside from delivering a performance boost, the new flash module also addresses the security or data privacy requirements of key customers, according to Dovas. "We have customers in the government space that want, for specific purposes, to position their data not in [non-removable] media. Hard disk drives and SSDs are removable, so flash technology really solves this security restriction in the best possible way," he comments. "It has a lot of other advantages: we can accelerate a lot of system management tasks, we can boot the server almost five times faster with flash than we can with conventional drives. This is differentiation in the market."

Sun's newest blade offerings ship with NEMs, its own take on high-performance networking connectivity. "We are out to disrupt the blade space," Dovas indicates. "These network express modules handle communication of the blades one to the other. They help blades communicate to the outside world." Sun's NEMs modules (like similar technologies from Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp., and other players) also facilitate blade-wide systems management, including discovery, configuration, provisioning, and workload management. "These capabilities are built into the silicon," Dovas says.

Sun's "Cooling Door" is a new liquid cooling thermal management technology that delivers up to 35 kilowatts of cooling capacity per rack. (Competitive offerings achieve less than half as much, Dovas claims.)

According to Sun's published figures, the use of its Cooling Doors technology in tandem with an "efficient cooling infrastructure" can help data save 3.5 million kilowatt hours per year. It's another example of differentiation in an extremely crowded blade (and, indeed, x86) server segment, according to Dovas.

"Our technology can allow [customers] to build clusters with hundreds of blades and still have a single point of network management, and you don't need to invest in a more expensive data center in order to achieve that," he points out. "We have not only the processor technology, but we have re-architected the server, we have all of this great networking technology."

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.

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