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Sun's X64-Based Streaming Server Runs on Linux

Published: April 26, 2007

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

Server maker Sun Microsystems this week used the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City as a springboard to launch its new Streaming System, a cluster of application servers and storage servers and a new video stream switch, marking its entry into a market that one of the company's co-founders and current chief X64 system architect, Andy Bechtolsheim, was getting set to chase when Sun acquired a startup that he founded called Kealia.

Bechtolsheim was Sun's original chief technology officer when the workstation originator and Unix server giant was founded back in 1985. A decade later, he left Sun to start a company called Granite Systems, which made Gigabit Ethernet switches, which he sold in 1996 to Cisco Systems for $200 million. Bechtolsheim stayed on at Cisco for a few years, but then left to start Kealia in February 2001, which was rumored to be working on video server and networking technologies. Until Sun bought Kealia in February 2004, just before announcing its broad support for Opteron processors and its plans for the "Galaxy" line of servers, no one knew anything else about Kealia except for its address in Palo Alto, California.

The Sun Streaming System: Kealia Revealed.

The Streaming System that Sun announced this week is one of the things that Kealia was working on, and Sun believes that it can chase the exploding market for video streaming and IPTV with the new product. The part of the setup that is unique to the streaming market is a switch, called the X4950, that has the look and feel of the Sun Blade 8000 blade server that was announced last year. In fact, according to Henk Goosen, director of engineering at Sun, the two machines have similar components and chassis. The switch has great big gobs of memory--up to 2 TB--and delivers about 320 Gb/sec of streaming capacity. Depending on how many switches are installed in the setup, the Streaming System has enough capacity to support between 20,000 and 160,000 video streams rated at 2 Mb/sec, and Sun estimates that it can deliver each stream for a cost of about $50 a pop to the service providers, telecommunications companies, and cable operators who are looking to do IP-based video streaming.

The X4950 switch is back-ended by a bunch of "Thumper" X4500 storage servers, capable of housing about 200,000 hours of video storage (24 TB). The maximum configuration, which Sun says scales by about a factor of 10 compared to competitive products, fits in three industry standard server racks. Sun also believes that this product can be delivered for anywhere between one-third to one-sixth the acquisition cost of other IP-based video streaming systems, and with a lot less systems integration hassle since it comes pre-integrated. Sun boasts that its system is about four times as dense, too. The largest configuration of the Streaming System has 16 X4500s, 20 X4100s, and two X4950 switches.

The Streaming Software originally developed by Kealia, which connects the application and storage servers and the video switches together, runs on a bunch of X4100 Opteron-based servers running Linux. The Streaming Software is mostly coded in C++, and according to Goosen could be ported to Solaris, which Sun obviously would like to use over Linux. But when Kealia was founded, Sun was backing away from Solaris on X86, was nowhere near taking Solaris open source and embracing the Opteron processors, which Kealia had decided to do. The Linux used in the system is one that Kealia created for itself based on an undisclosed commercial distribution with some real-time hooks in it to boost the responsiveness of the system. Over the long haul, you can bet that Sun will port the Streaming System software to Solaris.


Sun Brings Back Founder Bechtolsheim Through Kealia Acquisition

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