Sun Microsystems is reaching for a larger share of the blade server market with the launch of new models this week, including the first Sun blades from its new alliance with chip maker Intel.
Sun said the Sun Blade X6250 is a two-socket server with dual-core Intel Xeon processors in each socket. It is the first Intel-based Sun server since the two companies announced in January a deal for joint engineering, design and marketing of Intel's chips and Sun's Solaris operating system. Previously, the only x86 architecture processors Sun used were from Advanced Micro Devices.
Sun also unveiled the Sun Blade X6220, a two-socket blade powered by dual-core AMD Opteron processors and the T6300 one-socket blade powered by Sun's own UltraSPARC T1 processor. Sun also introduced the Sun Blade 6000 chassis, which can hold up to 10 Sun blade servers and provide power, cooling and network connections to them. A user could install any combination of AMD, Intel and Sun-powered blades in one chassis.
Offering Sun, AMD and Intel processors in a blade form factor produced "the most open and versatile blade platform out on the market", said Mike McNerney, director of Sun's blades server product line. "It is a compelling and interesting proposition."
By using Intel inside its blades, Sun can now serve customers who favour the Intel processor platform, said Matthew Eastwood, group vice president for enterprise platform research at IDC. AMD made a good run at Intel with competitive processors in recent years but Intel has re-established itself as the market leader.
"I think the biggest advantage for Sun is in the area of credibility in the x86 market. It really shows to enterprise customers that Sun is committed to x86," said Eastwood.
Using Intel may also make Sun more competitive with blade server industry leaders Hewlett-Packard (HP) and IBM, he said, though they are far ahead in sales. Over the last four quarters, IBM sold $1.136bn (£570m) worth of blade servers for a 38.9% market share, closely followed by HP's $1.127bn (£565m) in revenue for a 38.6% market share, according to IDC numbers. Sun ranked fifth with only $100m (£50m) in blade revenue for a 3.4% share.
That gap gives HP an opportunity to criticise Sun's latest news. "Sun is a non-player in blades and has failed to grow any appreciable market share," said Eric Krueger, an HP spokesman, in an email. Noting that HP introduced its c-Class blade servers in mid-2006 at about the same time Sun introduced its SunBlade 8000 line, Krueger added: "HP has enjoyed a rather quick ascension to No. 1 in blade revenues and shipments while Sun owns a very small position of this rapidly growing market."
But it is the rapidly growing nature of the blade market that, along with Intel deal, give Sun a chance to improve its share, said Eastwood. IDC forecasts the blade server market to grow to $11.3bn by 2011 from $3.77bn in 2007, and for blades to account for 28.8% of all server unit sales in 2011, up from 11.3% this year.
"Sun has a long way to go but there's really no reason why a customer wouldn't consider Sun, particularly a traditional Sun customer or some emerging classes of customers like Web 2.0 companies," he said. "They are not really married to one supplier or another."
The Sun-Intel deal also opens another front in Intel's competitive battle with AMD. Every Intel-powered Sun blade sold is a lost sales opportunity for a Sun-AMD blade. But AMD doesn't see it that way.
"I suppose you could look at it that way, but if you look at the market it general we're continuing to grow our footprint in the marketplace," said Bruce Shaw, AMD's director of worldwide commercial and enterprise marketing. AMD is scheduled to launch a new quad-core processor, code-named Barcelona, around mid-year.
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