Sun begins shipping Sun Fire servers

Sun Microsystems Inc. on Wednesday announced that it has begun shipping four models of its new Unix midrange Sun Fire servers. The servers are powered by Sun's UltraSPARC III processor 64-bit chip and start at US$73,195, Sun said in a statement. Sun is marketing the systems that run on Sun's Solaris 8 OS as "midframe" machines, which offer mainframe features and deliver high system availability, application performance and flexibility.

Offering what Sun considers mainframe power at a starting price of less than $75,000 is a dramatic move on Sun's part, John Shoemaker, executive vice president of system products, said during a Webcast. Hewlett-Packard and IBM can not offer the performance for the same low price, he claimed.

"That is less than your monthly maintenance bill on a mainframe computer," Shoemaker said. "This is a dramatic, dramatic comparison."

One new innovation in the Sun Fire line seeks to offer greater performance. The technology is called Sun Fireplane interconnection or backplane, which is a fully-redundant backplane that enables fault-isolated partitioning and dynamic partitioning in a full production environment. This allows the ability to split the computer into separate domains and allows administrators to develop midrange systems with security, fault tolerance, uptime, flexibility in accommodating system growth or varying system demands. The Sun Fireplane is cable-free.

The Sun Fire come systems allow for hot swapping CPUs, I/O and memory upgrades and for concurrent maintenance while the system and applications are running. All hardware components such as data and memory paths, system controller and power supply, are redundant, Sun said. The systems also feature ECC (error checking correction code) for parity checking of data, address and external cache.

The Sun Fire servers ship with Sun Management Center software, a Web-based management tool and system analysis instrument, the company said. Sun has put the memory controller on the UltraSPARC III processor and said it offers more speed and greater reliability. Some other features include: separate address and data paths on the interconnect dedicate bandwidth to data transfers; Sun Fire systems share a common system architecture and possess interchangeable components, and Sun Fire systems offer support for mixed-speed CPUs.

Servers come with either two, eight, 12 or 24 CPUs. Pricing is as follows:

-- Sun Fire 3800 server with 2-CPUs (750MHz), 2G bytes RAM -- US$73,195-- Sun Fire 4800 server with 2-CPUs (750MHz), 2G bytes RAM -- $129,995-- Sun Fire 4810 rackable server with 2 CPUs (750MHz), 2G bytes RAM -- $129,995-- Sun Fire 6800 with 2 CPUs (750MHz), 2G bytes RAM -- $250,995During the Webcast Wednesday, Sun took a few jabs at Hewlett-Packard and IBM. Sun compared its Sun Fire 6800 machine to a 24-processor Unix IBM server to emphasize the hot-swapping capabilities of the Sun machine. Sun showed the redundancies of the machine that allow users to pull out different components and make changes to the OS while applications are running.

Two Sun representatives opened the IBM server and showed that nothing can be pulled out of the machine without the system going down. It wasn't clear from the Webcast exactly what model IBM server was being used in the demo. An IBM spokesman said he couldn't address claims made by Sun that the IBM server used in the Webcast demo lacked hot-swapping capabilities, but added that he would try to get an IBM official knowledgeable about the matter to comment.

The vendor jabs on server equipment go both ways. IBM also has been trying to wean customers off Sun's UltraSPARC products and move them to IBM AIX products. The UltraSPARC processor rollout has been hit by delays, and IBM stresses that the move to Sun's Solaris 8 can be a complicated process, an IBM spokesman said. IBM is offering a three-day seminar about moving to IBM Unix servers.

Sun, in Palo Alto, California, can be reached at +1-650-960-1300 or at http://www.sun.com/.

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