Sun Fire 15K takes swipes at server sprawl

According to Sun Microsystems Inc.’s president, its latest server addresses two of its customers’ concerns: total cost of ownership and server consolidation.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company launched Sun Fire 15K in New York on Tuesday. Sun president Ed Zander said lowering the total cost of ownership was the guiding design principle behind the successor to the Sun Enterprise 10000, or Starfire. While the dot-com fire raged, he said, customers were only concerned with getting on the Web, but those days are over.

“Today it’s about, ‘I need to do more with less. I need to get my supply chain more efficient, I need to increase revenues, I need to get closer to my customers,'” said Zander. “‘I need to do it with less people. I need to do with less capital, less cost, much faster.’ Real, real business challenges especially in this down economy.”

Clark Masters, Sun’s vice-president and general manager, enterprise server products, said there are huge savings to be had in mainframe re-hosting and server consolidation. “We need to address server sprawl,” he said. “We have hundreds even thousands of servers distributed, maybe all over the world, and they’re hard to manage, costly to manage and we have excess capacity.”

Shahin Kahn, vice-president of product marketing and planning, system products group said the Sun Fire 15k will redefine mission critical computing in the data centre. It’s ability to do so, he said, lies in unprecedented feature like 576 GB in memory, support for up to 106 64-bit UltraSPARC III processors, 18 I/O hubs and the ability to handle up to four terabytes of storage.

“We’ve been looking at it from a CPU standpoint, from memory, from I/O, from the entire way the applications are managed, and this is fully two times the performance of the largest mainframe that is offered by IBM,” said Kahn.

IBM was unavailable to comment at press time.

Jean Bozman, an analyst with Framingham, Mass.-based IDC, warned against judging a server’s worth by numbers.

“You can’t simply look at CPU counts. It’s tempting to do that: this one was 24, that one has 32, that one has 72,” says Bozman. “What you really need to look at is something like a TPC (Transaction Processing Performance Council) or a number of benchmarks even though benchmarks have their downside which is they’re optimized.”

Sun repeatedly compared its products and business philosophy to the global leader in server sales.

“Their approach, and I think you know who I mean,” said Zander in a thinly–veiled reference to IBM, “introduces to their customers complexity, cost and a closed architecture which produces loss of control and loss of intellectual capital.”

According to research by IDC, the global Unix server market is growing. Bozman said the market was worth US$29 billion in 2000, up US$4.5 billion over 1999. IBM held 18.6 per cent of the market (Sun had 35.4 per cent), and has plans to increase its share.

IBM is expected to release a high-end (more than $1 million) Unix server in the coming weeks.

“My understanding is that the IBM Regatta is fairly powerful,” said Bozman. “It has a lot of new technologies in it some of which were leveraged or brought over from the mainframe side.”

Bozman said one improvement should be partitioning, which it’s Unix servers to date have not had.

“IBM as a company has so much experience in perfecting partitioning in the mainframes that it would be understandable that they would start leveraging this over into the Unix line,” she said.

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