Sun tours Canada to promote Galaxy x64 server line

TORONTO – Sun Microsystems Inc. has extended its reach in the 64-bit computing world with the launch of a server line for the enterprise that is faster, smaller, more energy efficient and less expensive than its competition, according to the company.

Announced last month at the worldwide launch in New York City, Sun Microsystems of Canada Inc. is in the midst of a cross-country tour to launch its 64-bit x86 servers to the Canadian market called “Galaxy.” Powered by Advanced Micro Devices Inc.’s Opteron chip, Sun is touting the servers as the fastest systems in the world.

“This is a horse race and things will change,” said David Lawler, director of network systems group at Sun Microsystems Inc. “We have the same suppliers as our competition, but we have to architect our product better than others.”

Lawler was one of three presenters at Tuesday’s launch event in Toronto – the third stop on Sun’s Canadian road tour, which hit Vancouver and Calgary last week and will move on to Montreal and Ottawa later this week.

Sun and AMD, however, need to exercise caution when getting users to make the switch from 32- to 64-bit systems, said Alan Freedman, research director, infrastructure hardware, IDC Canada.

“Sun and AMD have learned their lesson,” said Freedman. “Customers had to make a complete sway in the past.”

With that in mind, Galaxy servers are backwards-compatible, meaning they can run 32-bit code natively on x64 systems, allowing customers to hang on to older applications until they are ready to upgrade. Freedman, however, added that customers will eventually have to adopt 64-bit drivers to see performance improvements in how their applications perform.

Sun is targeting the systems – which include the x2100, the x4100 and the x4200 servers – at enterprise-level customers such as consulting firm EDS Canada. EDS provides mainframe, data centre, help-desk and desktop services, application maintenance and development, business process outsourcing and transformation services to businesses worldwide.

EDS has evolved its services strategy over the years from a custom management module in the past to a leveraged facility in the last couple of years and, now, to the utility model, said David Woelfle, chief architect at EDS Canada.

“Our clients want us to take the capital out of the equation,” said Woelfle. “With x64 we now have the opportunity to get to a modular approach to get rid of proprietary systems.”

With the launch of Galaxy, Sun is offering support across multiple platforms other than its own Solaris operating system. These include Linux distributions from Red Hat and Suse, VMware, and Microsoft Windows. In April 2004 Sun and Microsoft signed an historic 10-year collaboration deal and have since announced several collaboration projects including single sign on and Web services management.

Sun’s support for a variety of platforms was one of the main reasons EDS Canada chose to go with its products, said Woelfle.

“Sun’s support for OSes allows us to take advantage of the z-OS workload as an alternative to running on a mainframe,” said Woelfle, adding that he doesn’t anticipate Sparc going away any time soon.

And neither is Hewlett-Packard’s PA-RISC, which was replaced by its Itanium line. RISC-based machines continue to account for 34 per cent of the hardware infrastructure market, said Freedman.

“There’s still a market for RISC Unix servers, but the transition is underway,” said Freedman.

By 2009, however, the majority of x86 revenues will come from 64-bit systems, he added. Fueling these revenues will be customer demand for improved utilization rates, improved flexibility and a reduction in power consumption.

X64 systems also allow EDS to take advantage of high speed switching fabric from Cisco Systems Inc. that allows users to connect server and storage on demand. Woelfle said 90 to 95 per cent of EDS Canada’s clients will run on x64 fabric within two years.

The x4100 has all fans in the front of the system that are hot-swappable so that users don’t have to pull the server completely out of the rack when replacing them. It also features fault-like diagnostics that alert users to the system failure of a particular component. To help companies save on energy consumption, the machine has two openings on the front that allow air to flow through it, helping to keep the system cool. Lawler said every drop by 15 degrees Celsius saves 10 times the power requirement.

The x2100 is a one socket system with no redundancy, allowing for more compute cycles per dollar than any other system of its kind on the market, according to Sun.

The systems ship with Sun’s system management software, N1 system manager, which provides provisioning and manageability of the system to the user. In addition to software, Sun also provides support services to its customers.

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