Sun's New Blade System Lets Users Mix And Match Platforms

blade server architecture

The Sun Blade 6000 Modular System allows solution providers and their customers to run blade servers with UltraSPARC T1, Intel and AMD processors and Solaris, Windows and Linux operating systems in one chassis, said Mike McNerney, director of blade servers for the vendor.

"The architecture brings a no-compromise design to the blade platform," McNerney said. "By putting SPARC, AMD and Intel processors on the platform, customers can move all their applications to blade servers."

The release of the Sun Blade 6000 family follows last July's the release of the Sun Blade 8000, Sun's first blade server family since being out of the blade business for a couple years.

Mark Teter, CTO of Advanced Systems Group, a Denver-based solution provider and Sun partner, said the ability to combine the different platforms in the same enclosure is important.

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"For edge networks, it's very competitive to be able to put in AMD, Intel and T1 (SPARC) servers," he said.

Teter said he expects the 6000 family to continue the server consolidation role that Sun started when it released the 8000 family.

"Sun's 8000 is already ahead of IBM and Hewlett-Packard with consolidation," Teter said. "The best part is flexibility, with PCI connections and I/O offerings with Gigabit Ethernet, InfiniBand or Fibre Channel. Sun built the chassis around the blade. HP and IBM built the blade around the chassis."

The Sun Blade 6000 family was designed by Andy Bechtolsheim, chief architect and senior vice president at Sun and the designer behind the company's Sun Fire x64 Advanced Micro Devices-based servers, McNerney said.

The 6000 was built using open standards to better integrate with customer data centers, McNerney said. For instance, the new blades use the Sun Blade Independent I/O, which is based on the PCI Express backplane that isolates the blade compute element from the I/O.

"This lets you upgrade the compute side without impacting the I/O," he said. "Other blades including the IBM BladeCenter and the HP c-Class use a daughterboard for the I/O. To upgrade them, you need to open the blade and replace the daughtercard and figure out which daughtercard to use."

The 6000 is also managed transparently so that 10 blades in an enclosure look like 10 independent servers, McNerney said. "They don't look different from traditional rack-mount servers," he said.

Sun also provides out-of-the-box integration with customers' current management structures, including such structures as Altiris, BMC, CA, HP's Insight Manager, Microsoft MOM, IBM Tivoli or Sun N1.

"We don't require you add additional management tools," McNerney said. "This reduces cost and complexity."

The Sun Blade 6000 allows up to 10 server blades to fit into a 10U enclosure. Each blade includes two processor sockets and 16 DIMMs for up to 64 Gbytes of memory. Also included is room for four hot-plug SAS or SATA hard drives.

Because of the 16 DIMMs, Sun can get aggressive pricing on memory, McNerney said. "By using 2-Gbyte DIMMs, customers can get the same memory of other blades which require 4-Gbyte DIMMs. The 4-Gbyte DIMMs are much more expensive."

That memory capacity is great for server virtualization, McNerney added. "It's a tremendous fit for virtualization," he said. "Large memory is important because users can quickly swap in different applications."

Sun will support all future processor upgrades through 2012 with the Sun Blade 6000 platform, McNerney said, including quad-core, octo-core and so on. That makes it a future-proof investment for solution providers and their customers, he said.

"We are talking about an architecture that can be upgraded through 2012," he said. "And it makes it easier to move the conversation from how many MHz or processors the customer needs to how am I building out my data center? How am I getting new efficiencies? These are conversations customers can have with our partners."

Sun is expanding its channel programs to include the Sun Blade 6000, including its 60-day try-and-buy program, Startup Essentials, to let customers get started with the lowest cost, and a starter kit.

The starter kit makes a Sun Blade 6000 enclosure and one or two server blades available to customers with application kits for software like VMware and Oracle, all at a 25 percent discount.

"We're looking at data deployments," McNerney said. "But customers want to look at how the servers work and what efficiencies they can get."

HP and IBM are clearly the dominant players in the server blade space, McNerney said. However, they are already going through their third, fourth or fifth generation of blades in the past four to five years, he said.

"Sun is coming in now with a clean architecture," he said. "That's why we focus on the open architecture -- our open architecture vs. yet another proprietary architecture. Look at the organization. It's a license agreement from IBM. IBM owns the intellectual property, controls it. Look at PCI Express. It's an open standard. There's the difference between calling something open and really being open."

The Sun Blade 6000 Modular System is available now, with entry-level pricing starting at $4,995 for the Sun Blade 6000 chassis, $5,995 per server module for the Sun Blade T6300 UltraSPARC blade, $3,695 per server module for the Sun Blade X6250 Intel quad core-based blade, and $3,995 per server module for the AMD Opteron-based Sun Blade X6220.