Sun Microsystems Set To Launch AMD-Based 'Galaxy' Servers - InformationWeek

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Sun Microsystems Set To Launch AMD-Based 'Galaxy' Servers

Sun will have to differentiate the eight-way Opteron-based servers from competing products from HP and IBM.

Sun Microsystems on Monday will introduce its "Galaxy" family of Opteron servers at its quarterly "Network Computing" product roll-out event in New York. The systems mark Sun's most original designs to date using AMD's Opteron processors, a selling point that the company will likely emphasize in a bid to differentiate its offerings from competing Opteron servers from IBM and Hewlett-Packard.

Indeed, the Galaxy design has been personally shepherded by Andy Bechtolsheim, who was an original co-founder of Sun in 1982 alongside Scott McNealy and Bill Joy. Bechtolsheim began work on Galaxy at Kealia Inc., a start-up he launched in 2001 to develop advanced server technology. Sun acquired Kealia in early 2004, and Bechtolsheim returned to the Sun fold in the role of chief architect.

"The very first fruits of that acquisition are what we're announcing on Monday," said Larry Singer, Sun's strategic insight officer, in a interview. "The advantage has to do with packaging and the density of the computing infrastructure -- how you place the stuff in the box to get better performance at higher speeds and with cooler operation. Our view is that Andy Bechtolsheim is to enterprise computing what Steve Jobs is to consumer computing,"

Galaxy is indeed a big move forward, according to one analyst. "Sun has had a good [first-generation Opteron] solution but I think this is going to allow them to provide a better, more integrated and more scalable solution," said Kevin Krewell, editor-in-chief of the Microprocessor Report. "It's the next step. For the first products, they took pretty much canned designs and brought them to market. This is more significant; there's lots of Sun DNA in this machine."

Because of a media embargo on the announcement until Monday, Singer and Sun declined to confirm specifics about the Galaxy product family. However, the Galaxy line is widely expected to stretch from one-way to eight-way servers, some of which will incorporate the new multiprocessing-capable versions of the dual-core Opteron currently in the works at AMD. Since Galaxy has been in the works for some time, it's also expected that the lower end of the lineup could include some systems based on single-core Opterons.

With Galaxy, Sun is executing the first step in a bold revival of its hardware line-up, which sagged in popularity early in the decade as Sun's UltraSparc architecture was eclipsed by the x86. Sun's first generation of Opteron systems, introduced in February 2004, have been a big part of the company's rebound. In 2004, Sun took third place in the server market for the year as a whole, according to figures from market researchers IDC, with revenues of $5.2 billion and a 10.5 percent market share. (IBM led the overall server market for 2004, pulling in $16.3 billion for a 33.3 percent share of total server revenues, followed by Hewlett-Packard with $13.0 billion and a 26.6 percent share.)

In advance of Sun's announcement on Monday, Hewlett-Packard officials served noticed that they intend to hold on to their market share. "We're sitting in a very good position in the market," said Paul Miller, vice president of marketing for HP's industry standard server group. "A lot of our growth is in Linux and in architectures like blades. They're [Sun] coming to the party late. We have deep generations of architectures that have enabled us to have full generations of Opteron-based servers that have leading performance."

The Galaxy designs should keep Sun's momentum going, according to analyst Krewell. "From a hardware perspective, I think they're going to have a really good offering," he said.

Sun's longer term strategy is built on a three-pronged approach. To supplement the Opteron systems, aimed at the sweet spot of the server arena, Sun is working on a processor called "Niagara," which is expected to be released sometime in 2006. Niagara will be used in so-called "throughput computing" systems. Sun will position these as capable of handing network-intensive tasks.

"What we're talking about with Niagara is six time to 15 times improvements in performance for certain kinds of workloads," said Singer.

The third prong of Sun's approach is at the high end. As part of a strategic relationship with Fujitsu, Sun will sell 64-bit Sparc-based systems made by Fujitsu, beginning in 2006, as part of a product family code-named named the Advanced Product Line (APL).

"When you combine the Fujitsu Sparc 64 [systems], the Niagara processor, and these new Opteron systems, Sun will have a really good range of offerings," said Krewell. "I think their hardware act will be in really good shape next year."

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