Sun puts Intel-based server plans into action

Debuts two x86 systems with Xeon chips, following deal signed in January

Sun Microsystems will begin expanding this week its line of x86-based servers to include rack-mounted systems based on Intel processors -- an announcement that comes eight months after Sun and Intel signed a joint development agreement.

Sun is rolling out two Intel-based servers, topped off by the Sun Fire x4450. That system has sockets for four of the quad-core Xeon 7300 processors that Intel released earlier this month. The new server, which comes in a 2U (3.5-in.-high) enclosure and can support 2GB to 128GB of memory, starts at US$8,895 and will ship next month, according to Sun officials.

The lower-end model being introduced by the company is the Sun Fire x4150, which has two sockets and can support either dual-core Xeon chips or Intel's Xeon 5300 quad-core devices, which preceded the 7300 series. The x4150 comes in a 1U enclosure and is scheduled to ship before the end of this month, with prices starting at US$2,995.

Both servers support Sun's Solaris operating system as well as Linux and Windows.

Sun's embrace of the x86 platform began in earnest with its announcement four years ago of an alliance with Advanced Micro Devices. In 2005, the hardware vendor dropped several existing low-end systems based on Intel chips and began shipping AMD-based servers. Sun relied exclusively on AMD's Opteron processors for its x86 line until signing the development deal with Intel early this year.

As part of that agreement, Sun said it planned to develop a full of line of Xeon-based servers and workstations, and work with Intel to optimize Solaris for hardware built around the Intel chips. Its initial offering with Intel support was the Sun Blade 6000, a modular blade server system that was introduced in June and can be equipped with dual-core Xeon chips as well as with Opteron and Sun's own UltraSparc T1 processors.

Sun officials said the two rack-mounted servers being announced this week are only the start of the company's planned line of Intel-based systems, although they added that Sun will ship machines based on AMD's new quad-core Opteron by year's end. That device, which was code-named Barcelona, was introduced this month as part of an effort by AMD to recover ground it has lost to Intel in the server market.

Bill Heilman, a platform specialist at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, has been beta-testing the Sun Fire x4450. Heilman said he plans to use the system as a server consolidation platform to help cut power costs in the university's data center. "We want to get away from server sprawl," he said.

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Patrick Thibodeau

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