The strategy moves Sun deeper into the highly competitive space around the converged data centre
Sun Microsystems is pulling together its next-generation Intel-based servers, storage technologies and new networking innovations to build the basis for its data centre initiative.
Key to Sun’s Open Network Systems program are servers powered by Intel’s new Xeon 5500 series quad-core processors, and featuring on-board networking technology and integrated Flash memory, a Solaris operating system optimised for the new Intel chip architecture, greater virtualisation capabilities and unified management.
With the new initiative, being announced this week, Sun becomes the latest major tech vendor to unveil a strategy designed to link together the various compute resources, storage systems and networking technologies in a converged cloud computing-like data centre environment.
Cisco Systems last month unveiled its long-awaited Unified Computing System strategy — which includes not only its networking technology but also its first blade servers and partnerships with such vendors as VMware and EMC. For its part, Hewlett-Packard has introduced its Virtual Connect technology to help link its various server and storage technologies within the data centre as part of its Adaptive Infrastructure strategy.
More recently, Novell officials unveiled their Service-Driven Data Centre campaign. In addition, some smaller vendors and startups are looking to get a foothold in the data centre space. For example, a company called Schooner Information Technology emerged from stealth mode April 13 with new data centre appliances that merge Flash memory, the Xeon 5500 series—also known as Nehalem EP chips — low latency interconnect and storage capabilities.
What’s fueling these initiatives is the need to increase energy efficiency and drive down operating costs in data centres that are increasing in complexity — thanks in large part to the rapid growth of virtualisation — and are under pressure to scale and offer more services.
Officials for Sun — recently the subject of acquisition reports involving IBM — believe they’ve found the right balance of open technologies and innovative products to help businesses build these dynamic, fast and efficient data centers.
“We’re approaching this in a holistic manner,” said John Fowler, executive vice president of Sun’s systems group.
Sun is unveiling seven new servers based on the Nehalem EP processors. The new Intel architecture, introduced on 30 March, are designed to ramp up performance and energy-efficiency while driving down costs. Key new features in the Nehalem architecture include an integrated memory controller — similar to what rival Advanced Micro Devices offers in its Opteron processors — a chip-to-chip interconnect, new power management capabiliites and better virtualisation support.
A host of systems makers have already announced new servers powered by the Intel Nehalem EP chips. Fowler said that the Sun servers also take advantage of what Intel is offering.
However, Sun also is integrating other technologies into the servers, including Flash-based SSDs (solid-state disks) and I/O technologies, including 10 Gigabit Ethernet, InfiniBand and its Sun Virtual NEM (Network Express Module) — essentially virtualised NICs (network interface cards).
The goal is to improve data centre performance by increasing the speed, simplicity and savings offered in the Sun products, Fowler said.
For example, the Sun Blade X6270 not only offers up to twice the memory capacity than competing blades, but also—when combined with the Virtual NEM technology — offers an all-in-one virtualization solution, Sun officials said.
Integrated SSD technology lets the 1U Sun Fire X4170 save users up to 75 percent in rack space and consumer 60 percent less power than competing 4U servers, and the Sun Fire X4275 server offer 12 terabytes of raw data.
Sun estimates that the use of integrated Flash-based SSDs will enable users to get 70 times the response time, up to eight times better throughput and up to 38 percent in less energy consumed than servers with conventional spinning hard disks.
Integrated networking technologies increase the simplicity, Fowler said. The Sun Blade 6000 Virtual NEM is a 10 GbE virtualisation provisioning module that lowers the cost-per-port and reduces the amount of cabling needed. The Sun Blade 6048 Quad Data Rate InfiniBand NEM offers integrated 40Gb InfiniBand capabilities, which is highly valued in HPC (high-performance computing) environments, a key audience for Sun technology.
Fowler also said that as the use of virtualisation increases in the data centre, he expects InfiniBand use in the enterprise to increase as well.
The Sun Quad Data Rate IB and Host Channel Adaptors are now bringing quad-data rate capabilities to rack and blade compute nodes, which officials said will improve price/performance.
Other key parts of the strategy include Sun’s ILOM (Integrated Lights Out Manager) unified systems management software, Open Storage platforms and Solaris OS, which has been optimized to take advantage of the thermal management capabilities offered in the Nehalem architecture, including the QuickPath chip-to-chip interconnect and Turbo Boost, which can dynamically ramp up the clock speed of individual cores based on demand.
In addition, Sun is offering its new Cooling Door for the Sun Blade 6048 modular system, which can use chilled water or refrigerant gas.
IDC analyst Jean Bozman said Sun is offering interesting products for both HPC customers and enterprises.
“For commercial customers, Sun is improving virtualisation for I/O, which is really important because we are seeing that the number of VMs [virtual machines] on [physical] servers is going up,” Bozman said. “Having better virtualised I/O is important.”
Where IT administrators may have been putting two to four virtual machines on a single server, they’re now putting as many as eight or more, which increases the complexity and the need for faster and more efficient networking capabilities.
Offering such innovation will be important for Sun going forward as it tries to gain a stronger foothold in the highly competitive blade market, where rivals HP and IBM hold about 75 percent market share, Bozman said. Add to that the added challenge of Dell and now Cisco, and Sun needs to continue to innovate if it hopes to gain share.
“They really have to show innovation, and Sun continues to innovate,” she said.