Sun Continues Low-End, High-Volume Product Push
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
Sun Microsystems last week unleashed a slew of low-end products that it hopes will get it back into making money in an increasingly penny-pinching IT environment. Sun made the product announcements, which for the most part fall into its Volume Systems Products group that sells workstations and entry servers, at the SunNetwork 2003 conference in Berlin.
Sun started out as a workstation company, and it is still a workstation company. Without workstation volumes pushing down the unit price of its UltraSparc processors, Sun could not afford to be in the server business with its own architecture. So the company is putting a lot of emphasis on the new Sun Blade 2500 workstation. This machine is based on a 1.28 GHz "Jalapeno" UltraSparc-IIIi processor, and is intended as a replacement for technical users who do not need the large 8 MB L2 cache that the "Cheetah" UltraSparc-III processors has and which is used in the current (and still available) Sun Blade 2000 workstations. The Sun Blade 2500 can support up to two UltraSparc-IIIi processors, up to 8 GB of main memory, and 72 GB of internal disk storage. A base Sun Blade 2500 is priced at $4,995. This compares quite favorably to the cost of a base Sun Blade 2000, which is also a dual-processor workstation and which was just a few weeks ago given a 1.2 GHz UltraSparc-III processor as a base CPU. A Sun Blade 2000 with a single 1.2 GHz CPU, 1 GB of main memory, and a 73 GB disk costs $6,995. The Sun Blade 2500 comes with basic 2D graphics and can be equipped with the new XVR-600 3D graphics accelerator, which costs $1,195, and the existing top-end XVR-1200 graphics card, which costs $2,995.
Entry-level general purpose servers and specialized servers aimed at the telecommunications market also account for a big portion of Sun's Sparc volumes, and hence the company continues to tweak its low-end server lines with the Network Computing 2003 Q4 announcements. (That's NC03Q4 in the new Sun lingo for the quarterly announcements).
One of the more interesting announcements was the Sun Fire B100x blade server, the X86-based blade server that Sun said it would deliver when it announced Sparc-based skinny machines back in February 2003. The new X86 blades are based on a mobile processor from Advanced Micro Devices, not Intel, and they plug into the existing B1600 Intelligent Shelf blade chassis, which can cram 16 blade servers into a 3U chassis. This chassis can support Sun's own Sparc blades and X86 blades side by side. The Sparc blade is based on a 650 MHz UltraSparc-IIi processor, while the other is based on an unnamed X86 processor of unknown speed. The X86 blade, as we now know, is based on the AMD Mobile Athlon XP1800 processor running at 1.53 GHz. This blade should offer a serious performance boost over the Sparc blade. Either type of blade can be equipped with up to 2 GB of main memory and a 30 GB or 40 GB ATA-IDE hard disk drive, which is used right now to house an instance of an operating system for each blade. The blade servers are intended to be used with the 2U NAS disk array called the StorEdge 3310 that Sun announced in February, which jam 824 GB of disk capacity into that small form factor; three of these can be daisy-chained together per B1600 chassis for a total of 2.4 TB. Shrinking 16 processors and 2.4 TB of disk capacity in a 9U form factor is a serious engineering feat.
The pricing on the B1600 chassis has not changed at $4,795, and Sun is still charging $3,920 for the N1 Provisioning Server 3.0 Blades Edition license and $1,795 for the Advanced Lights Out Manager software for the blade chassis. The base B100 blade server configuration from Sun using the UltraSparc-IIi blades sells for $23,399, which means Sun is actually charging $1,686 for the base Sparc blades (that's down from the official $2,045 list price from February). The base Athlon blade, presumably with 1GB of main memory, will sell for $1,795. It will support Solaris for X86 as well as commercial Linux distributions from Red Hat and SuSE.
Back in February, Sun said that it would eventually deliver a specialized SSL encryption blade for the B1600 chassis, and that it was working with a third party vendor to create an ASIC to run SSL encryption at hardware speeds for all the other blades in the chassis. This device was announced as the Sun Fire B10p Proxy Blade, and it is capable of handling 4,000 SSL terminations per second. Sun's engineers had apparently been working on two different SSL accelerators, according to Lawler, but decided to just release the higher-performing unit. The SSL proxy blade sells for $13,800, which is not exactly cheap even though it does mean that other blades do not have to work so hard doing SSL encryption and can therefore do other work. Sun may eventually reconsider and deliver a lower-performing SSL card with a much lower price tag to attract more customers.
Also rolling out this week is the two-way Netra 240 variant of the Sun Fire V240 server, which has been modified and ruggedized to be NEBS Level 3 certified and run on DC power. These modifications are necessary for telco and military installations. Both the Netra 240 and the V240 are based on the 1 GHz UltraSparc-IIIi processor and look very much like the new Sun Blade 2500 workstation in terms of the raw components in them. The Netra 240 costs $6,995, and is the kicker to the Netra 20. Further on the telco front, Sun will roll out the Netra CT820 carrier-grade Sparc server, which adheres to the PICMG 2.16 standard and which replaces the Netra CT800 server. The CT800 uses Compact PCI (cPCI) blade servers, which Sun has been shipping since 1998 to the telco industry, and used PCI as the backplane interconnecting the servers. The new CT820 uses a packet-switched Ethernet interconnect to link the cPCI blades to each other; it will be available this month and has a base $32,995 price tag.
Sun is now shipping its 1.2 GHz UltraSparc-III processors in the four-way Sun Fire V480 servers. According to David Lawler, group marketing manager for Sun's Volume Systems Products group, the faster UltraSparc-III chip is being dropped only in large configurations with four processors and 16 GB of main memory for now, but as Sun depletes its supplies of the 1.05 GHz parts and ramps up supplies of the 1.2 GHz parts, it will be available in all V480 configurations. The faster chip is available in machines at the same price as the slower chip, which is cool. Sun has similarly put a 3.2 GHz Xeon DP processor in its two-way V60x and V65x Intel-based servers at the same price it was charging for 2.8 GHz parts.
Finally, the Volume Systems Products group has launched a set of UltraSparc-IIIi boards for the embedded systems market, which makes use of Sparc components as the heart of medical scanners, copiers, controllers, and other devices that need computing capacity. Sun is hoping to sell UltraSparc-IIIi system boards to manufacturers who create machines that need computing oomph, performance graphics, and low cost. These embedded systems boards will roll out in December and January, and cost a couple to several grand a pop.
Editor: Timothy Prickett Morgan
Managing Editor: Shannon Pastore
Contributing Editors: Dan Burger, Joe Hertvik, Shannon O'Donnell,
Victor Rozek, Hesh Wiener, Alex Woodie
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