Sun Microsystems plans to unveil a new line of industry standard servers later today which it claims will put it ahead of the competition.
"Our emergence in the industry standard marketplace may get to the point where we are driving that marketplace rather than being driven by it," said Sun president and chief operating officer Jonathan Schwartz in an interview with vnunet.com.
Sun is set to unveil the Sun Fire x2100 and x4100 at an event in New York. The systems run on one and two dual-core AMD Opteron processors respectively. A four-way system will be introduced at a later stage. The servers were developed under the Galaxy codename.
A new system design makes the servers faster and more energy efficient than competing models, according to Schwartz, who claimed that customers can expect an average eight to 10 per cent increase in performance.
"That is not profound, but in a 64-way setting you are saving a lot of money, " said Schwartz.
Another feature of the Galaxy servers is a decrease in power consumption, which should be attractive to potential customers given the current peak in energy prices.
"What I hear from chief information officers from all over the world is that $70 a barrel for oil is having an impact on their business," said Schwartz.
"Whether it's the price of energy to fuel datacentres or the price of the goods that go into their supply chain, they are looking for ways to save money. "
The system redesign is largely the work of a team led by Sun's chief architect Andy Bechtolsheim, one of the original founders of Sun, who rejoined the company in February 2004 when Sun acquired Kealia.
The cut in power consumption and increased performance is the result of moving hardware around. The designers looked at how the processor was connected with the memory and storage inside the box to cut out bottlenecks, for instance.
The systems were also equipped with 4GB Ethernet ports instead of the standard 1GB. Cooling fans are strategically placed inside the system to minimise power consumption and optimise cooling capacity.
"A lot of these sound like they aren't arcane. But if you compare a Porsche to a BMW and ask the engineer what actually makes a car better, it's that same thing. It's the gearing, the clutches. It's attention to a lot of details," said Sun marketing manager Anil Gadre.
Sun is currently ranked sixth in the market for x86 servers and is far behind its competitors.
The Galaxy line makes Sun a serious player in the x86 market, according to Richard Fichera, vice president of the Computing Infrastructure Research Group at Forrester Research.
"It really answers the question of whether Sun can build a high quality enterprise commodity server. It just looks and feels like real solid engineering," said Fichera, who has examined the system's hardware.
He warned, however, that the model will primarily keep existing Sun customers from defecting and does not guarantee that the vendor will dominate the server market.
"[Galaxy] is competitive with offerings from other mainstream server vendors, " said Fichera. "Sun now has a platform that is every bit as good and in some ways even better, but there is no such thing as a stable advantage in this market."
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