Sun releases new blade, subscription service

New Sun service offers customers several automatic refreshes of its blade hardware

Hoping to make inroads in the high-growth blade segment of the server market, Sun Microsystems has released a new blade along with a U.S. subscription service offering customers several automatic refreshes of the server hardware.

The Sun Blade X8420 is powered by four-socket dual-core 2.8GHz Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron 8000 chips. Announced Tuesday, the server includes hot-pluggable I/O adapters that can be accessed from outside the box. The blade comes with PCIe ExpressModules supporting Gigabit Ethernet, Fibre Channel and InfiniBand technologies so users can mix applications requiring different I/O configurations within the same blade chassis.

Sun also introduced the Sun Refresh Service, a subscription offering that will enable Sun customers in the U.S. to update blades within two months of new servers becoming available. Sun will provide three refreshes of the blades over a 42-month period, delivering and installing the new servers and removing the old ones.

Last year, Sun rebounded in the server market as sales grew of its Galaxy and Niagara machines. The Galaxy line of servers are based on AMD's Opteron chips, while the Niagara machines use Sun's UltraSparc processors.

Sun was the fourth-largest server vendor in revenue worldwide in the third quarter of 2006, behind leader IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Dell, according to figures from analyst IDC in November. Sun had around 10 percent market share to IBM's 33.1 percent.

Blades remain the market segment experiencing the highest growth rates, so Sun's keen to make more of an impression there particularly. After failing to capture users' interest with its first attempts at blades a couple of years ago, Sun re-entered the market in July 2006 with its Sun Blade 8000 design, then released a smaller 8000 P chassis in November. The blades use AMD's Opteron chips and Sun is expected to come out with Niagara-based blades later this year.

Entry-level pricing for the Sun Blade X8420 starts at $13,095 per server module while the monthly subscription rate for the Sun Refresh Service is $23,000. Customers can also pay on a quarterly or annual basis for the subscription service, which is initially available only in the U.S.

In other Sun news, the vendor announced the latest version of Solaris Cluster, software that can be used to improve the availability of applications running on its Solaris 10 operating system. Sun also positions the cluster software as a business continuity and disaster recovery platform for Solaris 10 applications, spreading the computing load across machines to avoid the possibility of a problem with a single server bringing the entire system down.

Sun said it has made improvements in the new release of Sun Cluster so it's easier to use and provides better support for Solaris Containers virtualization software. The vendor also offers more support for third-party software configurations such as replication and storage offerings from Oracle, EMC, Hitachi, and Symantec.

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