Sun releases blade servers in ‘Lego block’ launch

Sun Microsystems says a modular approach to its server infrastructure will allow IT departments to treat its products like Lego blocks instead the complex systems they find difficult to integrate.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based firm Monday

released its first blade server along with N1 management software, a 1.2 GHz processor and value-priced mid-range servers. Sun first announced its intention to enter the blade server market last December as part of its overall N1 strategy, which is the company’s mission to make computers automatically respond to changes in the data centre.

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. IBM, Hewlett-Packard and others are also offering blade systems to those who want to create a capacity-on-demand sort of environment.

Sun chief executive Scott McNealy said the products were the first example of the company’s strategy to release of major feature sets quarterly, a practice he said customers were demanding.

“”We kept coming at them with a couple of billion dollars a year of R&D in a piecemeal approach,”” he said. “”It seemed that every week we were announcing something new, something different. It became very complicated to try and figure out how to write software to, how to implement, how to upgrade to these environments.””

Monday’s launch, for example, was called Network Computing 03, Q1. In about 90 days Sun will offer another release that could include performance enhancements or new pricing and service models. This will make it easier for IT departments to mix and match software, McNealy said, adding that the computer industry has been too component-focused.

“”Look at the auto industry. They don’t come out with a new seat cover one week and a new steering wheel the next,”” he said, adding that customers require more flexibility than vendors typically assume. “”I have yet to see a server room configured the same as another server room. They’re like fingerprints.””

IDC Canada analyst Alan Freedman in Toronto said Sun is becoming a viable alternative to PC servers on the low end.

“”I think this is just what customers were looking for,”” he said. “”I think the fact that Sun has gone out and spoken to their customers and listened, and are less of a inwardly-focused Sparc/Solaris platform that they are giving customers an option.””

During the press conference to announce the products, Sun welcomed Victor Nilson, vice-president of IT Enterprise Architecture at Cingular Wireless, a Sun customer. Nilson said Cingular turned to Sun’s blade servers after exploring other distributed computing strategies, like grid computing, to manage its many computing nodes and points of failure.

“”We can risk outages due to configuration issues, and more to the point, make sure we have sufficient capacity for spikes in demand,”” he said. “”Particularly with Web services and everything else, there’s more and more volatility to that.””

McNealy said Sun will be helping customers set up prototypes and proofs-of-concepts with its products in through its partner network of iForce ready centres. In Canada, it has opened up iForce centres with Burntsand Inc.


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