Sun Microsystems will launch its own set of blade servers as part of a strategy to better compete with IBM among data centre customers.

The Palo Alto, Calif-based firm Monday said it would release blade servers in the early part

of next year under its N1 banner. A blade server is a thin board containing one or more microprocessors and memory. It is intended for a single, dedicated application, such as serving Web pages.

The hardware will complement the software side of N1, which is Sun’s mission to make computers automatically respond to changes in the data centre. Last month the company acquired Terraspring, a three-year-old application developer which specializes in automatic allocation and provisioning of managed services. Steve McKay, vice-president of Sun Microsystems’ N1 and management systems, said the Terraspring technology would be the foundation of the N1 “”control plane”” to dynamically set up compute boxes, install an operating system and configure routers and switches in an automatic manner.

“”This dramatically reduces the amount of operator time and intervention,”” he said, adding that customer visits showed Sun executives how swamped IT staff have become with handling these tasks. “”Every time we saw a sticky note in a data center, that was an opportunity for N1.””

Sun will also be integrating software from Pirus Networks, which it acquired in September, to link several storage systems into a large pool through a technology called “”virtualization.”” Pirus product will also let administrators add storage space on demand, McKay said.

In many companies, McKay said, business services have been mapped to specific pieces of hardware, which means it can be hard to allocate more bandwidth on demand. Improved management of these resources will allow data centres to be more responsive, he said. Despite its blade server plans, however, McKay added that Sun’s N1 strategy would concentrate on helping enterprise customers reuse and extend the use of existing IT purchases.

The N1 architecture will consist of components like load balancers and firewalls for example. “”We’re not telling people they have to buy more components,”” he said. “”There may be some rocket science here, but most of the rockets we’ve already built.””

McKay said the use of existing components will set Sun apart from IBM, which refers to its project to create self-managing enterprise infrastructure as “”autonomic computing.”” IBM has been discussing its research, which has also been dubbed project eLiza, since last year. Rich Lechner, IBM’s vice-president of server development, said the company had divested itself of virtualization technologies until executives realized Linux could be used to create virtual servers. Eventually, Lechner said, IBM believes dynamic management of components will allow enterprises to move away from installing redundant servers and focus on increased capacity, rather than overcapacity.

During a recent briefing at its Poughkeepsie, N.Y., location, Sue Puglia, IBM’s vice-president of eServer development, added that self-healing, automatically reallocating tools will operate much differently in the enterprise. “”We see them becoming intelligent advisors, making broad policy-based changes,”” she said.

McKay said Sun has updated the most recent release of Terraspring’s products with increased support for local discs and blade computers. The products will support Windows, Linux and wide variety of Unix flavours, including Sun’s own Solaris.


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