Sun Strikes Back At Cisco

The company launches a line of Intel Nehalem-based servers and a networking module that plugs into a blade chassis and reduces the need for separate switching hardware.

Antone Gonsalves

April 14, 2009

2 Min Read
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Sun Microsystems on Tuesday introduced a line of servers based on Intel's Nehalem microarchitecture and a networking module that plugs into a blade chassis and reduces the need to buy switching hardware from vendors such as Cisco.

The Virtual Network Express Module was released about a month after Cisco introduced its own blade server for the data center, entering into direct competition with Sun, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM. The latter two companies dominate the blade server market.

In addition to launching NEM, Sun also introduced its line of servers powered by Intel's new Xeon 5500 processors, which are built on Nehalem. Two of the servers are the first from Sun to incorporate a flash storage module that sits close to microprocessors and reduces latency by boosting input/output speeds. The module, which has a capacity of only 24 GB, works in conjunction with hard disks and solid-state drives.

The Sun NEM works with existing servers and the new ones. The module connects to the blades within a chassis through a PCI Express backplane and simplifies the computing environment by eliminating the cabling that would normally be used to connect the servers to an aggregation switch. Sun claims using the technology can reduce cabling by 84%, switches by 97%, and rack space by 75%.

The trade-off is not having the additional features available in a separate switch. Sun, however, is hoping the NEM, which is priced at $4,999, will offer enough functionality to serve the needs of many organizations. In offering the switch alternative, Sun is firing back at Cisco's recently announced Unified Computing System, a series of blade server products that include storage capabilities along with virtualization and server management software.

Sun's new flash storage module is being offered with its new 1U Sun Fire X2270 rack-mount server and the Sun Blade X6275, which is built for high-performance computing. Prices for the systems start at $1,488 and $8,779, respectively. Each server can hold up to two modules, which plug into the motherboard much like a standard DIMM module.

Other Nehalem-based systems introduced by Sun include the Sun Blade 6048, a high-performance computing system that uses quad data rate InfiniBand for all interconnects. The 6048 chassis with one server module starts at $43,520. The remaining systems include the Sun Fire X4170, X4270, and X4275 rack-mount servers, which start at $1,488, and the Sun Blade X6270.

All of Sun's systems can be configured to run Linux, Windows, Solaris, or OpenSolaris operating systems.

Sun's latest product launch comes in the midst of reported merger talks with IBM. The discussions, however, reached an impasse this month over price and Sun's insistence that it consider other proposals, according to several published reports.

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