Sun Adds Quad-Core Opteron Servers

Sun Microsystems today expanded its Opteron-based offerings with three new Sun Fire featuring AMD’s quad-core Opteron processor, codenamed “Barcelona”.

The launch could prove a boon to both Sun (NASDAQ: JAVA) and AMD. While older Sun servers with the dual-core Opterons can be upgraded to quad-core, the new machines — the Sun Fire X4140, Sun Fire X4240 and Sun Fire X4440 rackmount servers — have some improvements over prior generations.

The new hardware can be loaded with a variety of operating systems — Solaris 10, Linux and Windows — as well as VMware for virtualized systems.

For AMD (NYSE: AMD), the launch could better position the chipmaker in the market for quad-core servers. Already, the company has signed HP and Dell to OEM deals using the long-delayed chips.

Sun originally had been wedded to its SPARC processors, but entered the x86 market in 2005 — initially with Opterons from AMD, and later adding Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) processors to the mix in 2007.

Despite being a relative newbie in x86, Sun is doing quite well, according to Dan Olds, a principal with Gabriel Consulting Group.

“We see them consistently top Dell in multiple customer satisfaction surveys over the past two years,” he told “They’re selling a decent chunk of x86 systems. Now, they are not beating HP and IBM, but that’s pretty entrenched competition.”

The 4140 and 4240 are dual-socket servers in 1u and 2u cases, respectively. Both have 16 memory sockets for up to 64GB of memory. The 4140 can hold eight SATA drives and the 4240 can hold up to 16 drives, a fact that Sun positions as making it ideal not just as a server but as a storage system.

“These servers, coupled with open storage software from Solaris, [give you] a very low-cost, high-capacity storage server that competes with high-end proprietary products from EMC and Netapp,” said David Simmons, senior product line director for x64 servers and workstation at Sun.

The 4440 is a four-socket, 2u unit with 32 memory slots for 128GB of memory and connectors for eight SATA drives. Simmons said that is twice the capacity of any 2u unit from Sun’s competition.

“We’ve optimized these systems for what we think are biggest pain points:
density, power and cooling and expansion of capacity,” he said. “These systems are designed to be optimized for things like virtualization, and with the virtualization technology in AMD processors and a built-in memory controller, it really does support multicore processor scaling. We’ve seen almost linear scaling going from four to eight cores.”

Olds said that in a survey by his firm, more than half of respondents said virtualized x86 will be the dominant usage model in their organization in the coming years.

“More than 50 percent said it’s saving them money,” he said. “They expect to buy larger x86 system because of it. The extra memory is a huge factor. That’s the opening for Sun.”

Sun offers a 60-day-free Try and Buy program as well as a trade-in program for owners of older x86 Sun systems. All three of the new servers are available now from Sun and its resellers.

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