Sun’s new servers powered for virtualization

Company also previews new hypervisor, virtualization manager

Sun is introducing new rack and blade servers Tuesday running its UltraSPARC T2 processors, pitching them as ideal for virtualization and energy efficiency.

The SPARC Enterprise T5120 (list price $14,000) and T5220 ($15,000) and Sun Blade T6320 ($10,000) servers use the T2, introduced in August by Sun’s newly created Microelectronics unit. The 65nm-processor features eight cores per socket supporting 64 threads of processing capacity on a single chip.

Sun also sells the x64-based Sun Fire X4450 and X4150 servers running Intel’s quad-core Xeon processors.

To simplify server management, both the SPARC and the Sun Fire servers adopt a “unified system design,” meaning they share a similar layout. “We have the same chassis, the same types of drives, same placement of drives, fans, et cetera, for ease of management and repair,” says Warren Mootrey, senior director of volume SPARC systems products. The unified design should help sell SPARC-based servers to existing x64 customers, he added.

The T2 processors are more energy efficient than earlier processors because eight processing cores run in one socket, Mootrey says. Also, the more computing the processor can do, the better it is at virtualization.

Sun’s virtualization plan

Sun also is developing a new virtualization software suite called xVM Infrastructure to be rolled out over the next year. It includes the xVM Server hypervisor and xVM Ops Center management tool.

Sun faces strong competition in the virtualization market from industry leader VMware as well as from Microsoft and others. Simultaneously, virtualization capability is being built directly into server hardware.

The xVM Server is a Xen-based hypervisor that can host open source Linux operating systems, Microsoft’s Windows and Sun’s own Solaris OS, says Marc Hamilton, vice president of Solaris marketing.

Under a new alliance between Sun and Microsoft, Sun will offer to install Windows Server 2003 on Sun servers. That deal includes allowing Windows to run as a guest OS on an xVM Server hypervisor, Hamilton says.

Sun is expected to distribute xVM Infrastructure free under its CDDL open source license and charge customers for support, as it has done with Solaris, he says, but declined to provide further details.

Ops Center manages both virtual and physical servers in a data center regardless of what brand of hardware or software is deployed. Usually, when a company says it supports competitors’ products, it quickly adds that the management tool works best with their systems. Sun is no exception.

“I don’t think [Ops Center] will have the same depth of understanding of them,” acknowledges Tim Marsland, CTO for Sun's software business.

The level of support depends on the competitor’s willingness to share technical information about their products with Sun, Marsland says. “If the information is available, we’ll use it but, if they don’t tell us we can’t do it.”

But as an indication of Sun’s challenge in gaining on Windows and Linux with Solaris, one Sun customer acknowledged some resistance.

Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, is trying out xVM Server along with Solaris in its data center’s test and development environment. “We want to use Solaris” more broadly, says Sergey Chelsky, Unix system administrator for the school.

Asked what’s stopping him, Chelsky says: “Our researchers are used to working on Linux, and it would be quite difficult to teach them to use Solaris.” But, he allows, it’s not “impossible.”

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