Sun Beams on ATCA

With the ATCA standard gaining momentum, vendor gives sneak peek of telecom blade server at VON

September 22, 2005

4 Min Read
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Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW) reiterated its support of the Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture (ATCA) this week, while giving its usual mixed messages about the blade server market and its own processors.

Sun trotted out a demonstration model of the upcoming Netra telecom blade server at this weeks VON show in Boston. This prototype was built around Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD) Opteron processors (see Demo Underscores Interoperability Challenge) -- unlike a Sparc-based version shown at the Supercomm conference in Chicago (see Sun & NTT Comware Demo ATCA Blades).

The Sparc version will be launched by the end of the year, and the Opteron-based blade server is set for release at the end of the first quarter 2006, according to Sun (see Sun Demos ATCA Server). The hardware vendor says users will also have a choice of both processors and operating systems on the yet-to-be-launched blade server -- either Linux or Sun’s own Solaris 10.

The demo showcased questions about Sun's blade server strategy, which has been a mixed bag. Earlier this year, the vendor decided to withdraw its enterprise blade offerings, which officials continue to say will be replaced by a new line of enterprise blade servers, built around Opteron.

Meantime, Sun is also reportedly kicking its Sparc processors upstairs, putting them into high-end systems, while loading its low-end and midrange servers with Opteron. However, Sun spokesman Alex Plant promised that the Sparc processors would still feature right across the vendor's family of servers. "There's a lot of customers that Sparc really makes sense for," he adds.But a couple of questions still loom: Since the yet-to-be-launched telecom blade server sports Opteron chips, are we to assume Opteron could also be the basis for Sun's return to enterprise blades? Will Sun stick to the telecom market only for blade servers?

Sun doesn't seem to know the answers. "No plans have been made one way or the other," Plant told NDCF. "We're still evaluating that."

There are plusses to the Netra products. By offering different operating systems in the same chassis, current Sun users can build on their existing Solaris 10 investments, while at the same time checking out the potential cost savings of Linux (see Sun Hopes to Shine , Sun Distributes 1M Solaris 10 Licenses, and IDC Updates Server Figures).

Canadian telecom giant Telus Corp. (NYSE: TU; Toronto: T), for example, has already teamed up with Sun on a grid computing initiative built around Solaris 10 (see Sun, Telus Team Up).

Sun is also committed to the ATCA standard. Although still in its infancy, ATCA is expected to provide a standard platform for carrier-grade applications, with support for related standards, such as those from the European Telecommunications Standards Institute.Sun, like its rival Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), is putting its faith in ATCA in an attempt to woo carriers over to blade server technology. Like Sun's Netra blade server, though, HP's full details are sketchy. HP is also planning to launch an ATCA blade server next year, although the vendor has so far kept it well under wraps, confirming only that it will support both 32-bit and 64-bit technology (see HP Plans ATCA Telecom Blade and Server Honchos Flash Blades).

IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), however, is taking a completely different approach to its rivals. Although IBM beat both HP and Sun to the punch with the launch of its telecom blade server, the BladeCenter T, last year, the vendor has so far shied away from ATCA (see IBM Flashes Its Blade).

Instead, IBM is attempting to develop its own standard, encouraging a range of network equipment vendors to conform to the BladeCenter T's underlying architecture. These include vendors of networking switches, adapter cards, and communications blades for enterprise networks (see IBM, Intel Open BladeCenter Specs).

Although IBM has enough resources to woo partners over to its own telecom blade server standard -- or at least to try, ATCA appears to be gaining real momentum at the moment. A recent report from Heavy Reading, for example, says that the ATCA floodgates are opening, with more than 100 vendors wanting in on the action (see ATCA Starts to Rumble).

While ATCA is picking up speed, however, the blade server hype of recent years may not be matched by reality. This week, Byte and Switch Insider said that customers are still working out issues of power and cooling. They're often disappointed that blades don't offer dramatic savings over their rackmounted cousins (see Insider: SAN Blades Controversial).— James Rogers, Site Editor, Next-Gen Data Center Forum

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