Data Centers

Sun to revamp blade servers in 2006

Company will release taller systems--to accommodate hotter, more powerful machines--in attempt to win share from IBM, HP and Dell.

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By Stephen Shankland
Staff Writer, CNET News.com

SANTA CLARA, Calif.—Sun Microsystems will release a second-generation family of blade servers in early 2006, an attempt to win market share from IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Dell.

John Fowler, executive vice president of Sun's network systems group, was mum about details beyond the schedule in an interview here at Sun's annual analyst conference. But he said the new systems will be taller, a move that will let the company accommodate hotter and more powerful machines.

Sun's first blade servers, which debuted in 2003, used a 5.25-inch chassis that could accommodate 16 single-processor or eight dual-processor machines. They didn't catch on, though.

"We haven't been very successful with it," Fowler said. "It will be end-of-lifed and supplanted."

Blade servers are thin, modular machines that slide into a chassis like books in a bookshelf. The chassis simplifies the snarl of power, management and network cables that protrude from standalone servers, and it supplies shared infrastructure such as network switches and power supplies.

Sun took the approach of many first-generation blade suppliers: Use lower-end systems for comparatively undemanding tasks, such as serving up Web pages. Led by IBM, blade competitors later added higher-end systems with four processors.

"Sun's certainly behind in blades," Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff said. "The only thing that plays somewhat to their advantage is that the market's been fairly slow to develop, anyway."

Sun isn't the only company trying again. In November, Dell re-entered the blade server market.

According to market researcher IDC, 75,000 blade servers were sold in the third quarter of 2004. IBM held the top rank, with 44 percent of the $287 million in revenue. IDC expects the market to surpass $1 billion for all of 2004.

The significance of blade servers should increase, though, with sales of $9 billion in 2008—29 percent of the entire server market, IDC forecasts.

Fowler leads the group in charge of the company's servers using x86 processors such as Intel's Xeon and Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron. Those chips, in the last two years, have been updated with 64-bit memory-addressing abilities. Sun on Wednesday began adopting the Microsoft x64 nomenclature for describing those processors.

The technology was called x86-64 when AMD introduced it, but the chipmaker later changed its label to AMD64. When Intel released its version, it picked a third label, EM64T.

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