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Can Sun's Blade Slice Server Sprawl?

Sun Microsystems today beefed up its blade offerings with a new high-end, higher capacity product capable of running a variety of operating systems on any of three processors.

Sun reentered the blade market in mid-2006 and has since released 29 blade-related products, including eight blade server modules, four chassis, and 17 I/O products. The company has two blade product lines, the mid- to high-end 6000 series and the very high-end 8000 series.

Today's announcement is for the Sun Blade X8450 server module, the first to offer quad-core Intel Xeon processors on the 8000 family. It can use Xeons, AMD Opterons or Sun's Niagara 2 processors, all of which are quad-core.

The X8450 is a four-socket system with 32 DIMM sockets, twice the amount of memory normally seen in blades. It's also a high I/O unit, with two x8 PCI Express lanes and two x4 PCI-Express lanes for a total of 160 gigabits of throughput.

[cob:Related_Articles]Mike McNerney, director of the blades server product line at Sun, said the X8450 is a true four-socket replacement for any four-socket rack mount out there. "We take all the memory and I/O and add the efficiency of power and cooling and serviceability of the blade," he told InternetNews.com.

He said that compared with a similarly equipped rack-mount server, a blade system can save around 15 to 20 percent just on power and cooling. "Just moving to a blade form factor, thanks to the larger power supply, larger and fewer fans, there's an inherent efficiency," he said.

The Sun blades can run x86 and Sun processors and four operating environments: Solaris, Linux, Windows and VMWare. So Sun's message to customers is server consolidation within a single hardware platform regardless of CPU or operating system.

"We're seeing tremendous interest in our customer base at being able to consolidate all their platforms into a common infrastructure," said McNerney. "With these blades they are not limited to just Solaris on Sparc. They can do a broad section of data-center consolidation onto a blade center architecture."

Jed Scaramella, senior research analyst for servers at IDC, said Sun's blades are a little larger than its competitors at IBM, HP and Dell, but the risk paid off. "When people first introduced blades, the value proposition was all about density," he said. "IDC has found that floor density is not an issue. It comes up but not as much as power and cooling does."

Sun doesn't have half-height blades such as IBM and HP and isn't hurt by it, he said. "Sun's blades don't have the limitations the other blade chassis have when you start bumping into the ceiling on memory and I/O. You can only do so much in a blade chassis because of the memory," he said.

"It's really a forward-looking blade," Scaramella continued. "They are designing it not for people's needs last year or this year but maybe next year."

The Sun Blade X8450 server module begins shipping next month with entry-level price starting at $8,905.