Sun outlines new Galaxy server family

New AMD Opteron servers briefly detailed on Sun Web site

An internal document briefly available on Sun Microsystems's Web site has provided the first outline of its next-generation of servers based on Advanced Micro Devices's (AMD's) Opteron microprocessor. According to the document, a Portable Document Format (PDF) presentation created by Ambreesh Khanna, a chief technologist with Sun's US Client Solutions group, Sun plans to release four models of Galaxy servers by year's end.

On the roadmap are two entry-level servers, a 1U (4.4 cm) dual-processor server with two PCI-X (Peripheral Component Interconnect - Extended) slots, two hard drives, and up to 16G bytes of RAM, and a larger 2U system that can contain the same amount of processors and memory, but will have four hard drives and five PCI-X slots.

At the high end will be two 4U machines, one that will support four processors and as much as 32G bytes of memory and a second 8-way system with as much as 64G bytes of memory. Both of these systems will have four hard drives and will support the PCI Express interconnect, but the 8-way machine will have eight PCI Express connections, two more than the 4-way system.

The Santa Clara, California, computer maker has been unusually tight-lipped about this line of servers, code-named Galaxy, which are being designed by Sun co-founder Andreas Bechtolsheim.

Bechtolsheim left Sun in 1995, but he returned in February 2004 when the server design company that he had founded, Kealia, was acquired by Sun. His team has been working on Galaxy since the acquisition, but until now Sun has provided very few details about the servers.

In February, Bechtolsheim said that Sun expected their new AMD systems to outperform Intel Corp.'s Xeon products in both clusters of two-way servers and larger multiprocessor servers. Sun is working on a dozen such systems, he said at the time.

Galaxy will also include ultra-thin Opteron blade servers designed to fit into the same chassis as Sun's blade servers based on its Sparc processors, said Geoff Arnold, a Distinguished Engineer in Sun's CTO office in a recent Web log entry.

With Galaxy, Sun has carved out a unique niche for itself as a provider of large-scale Opteron systems, but it may be taking a few risks, said Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata in Nashua, New Hampshire. For one thing, Sun's current Opteron products are promoted as "edge" servers to be used for tasks like Web serving or file and print serving. The high-end Galaxy systems, however, will be appropriate for data-center applications that are now primarily run on Sun's UltraSparc servers. "These will very much compete with Sparc," he said. "An eight-way is not a network edge server."

Sun may be taking a greater risk in the way it has set market expectations, Haff said. Though Sun has not revealed many details about the new line, company executives have gone out of their way to boast of the uniqueness of their design.

"It's often a good idea to set low expectations and beat them," Haff said. "They've certainly set an expectation that these servers are going to be like nothing that's ever come before, and that may be a pretty difficult bar for them to top."

With the larger system configurations and dual-core processors, and 64-bit extensions to the x86 instruction set, the Galaxy servers will make interesting systems, said John Groenveld, an associate research engineer with The Pennsylvania State University Applied Research Laboratory. "I don't know whether Galaxy will revolutionize the (64-bit x86) market as IBM, Hewlett Packard, and Dell also sell 64-bit hardware," he said

Groenveld said he had high hopes for the systems, because of both Sun's reputation as an engineering company and Bechtolsheim's involvement in the project. "We want to see what innovation Sun comes up with," he said. "The proof will be in the benchmarks."

Sun declined to comment on this story. The document was briefly available here (http://mediacast.sun.com/share/vdot/SunTechStrategy.pdf) but had been removed from Sun's site Friday afternoon.

(Tom Krazit contributed to this report)

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