Sun has released the first three members of its 64-bit "industry-standard" server family, formerly codenamed Galaxy.

The Sun Fire X2100, X4100 and X4200 machines contains a variety of new technologies that will appear in the rest of the company's hardware, including its Sparc line of servers, in future.

The new servers run on AMD's Opteron processors and feature hot-swap functionality so that customers can take out and replace components including fans as the servers are running. The machines also have a special design to ease airflow to cut down on heat transmission and include sophisticated remote systems management, according to Sun executives.

Jonathan Schwartz, Sun's president and chief operating officer, said the company's hardware, notably servers based on Sun's own Sparc processors, will "take advantage" of the Galaxy servers' new technologies. He didn't reveal how exactly this will occur, although Sun executives have confirmed as likely rumours that servers based on Sun's upcoming Niagara Sparc chip will use the same chassis as the new Sun Fire machines.

Schwartz said he didn't expect the new servers (which range from a one-way through a four-way system) will cannibalise Sun's Sparc business.

Sun will also be "doing something" unspecified with the Galaxy new technologies in the blade server arena. Sun currently has a minimal presence in the blades market, which is dominated by HP and IBM.

In designing the new servers, Sun co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim and his team had the advantage of working on a "clean sheet". Talking to one major customer, Bechtolsheim discovered that power efficiency had become the customer's number-one criteria for new hardware. And surprise, surprise, Sun claims the new Sun Fire servers have half the power consumption of competitive machines already on the market from Dell, HP and IBM. Sun also claims its new servers have one-and-a-half times the performance of rival offerings and are one quarter the size of their peers.

Customers have been able to order the new Sun Fire servers for some time and the machines will ship next month. He revealed that Sun had 40 customer beta sites for the Galaxy servers, but he couldn't comment on the number of orders placed to date or speculate on the amount of machines Sun expects to ship in future. "We're preparing for Galaxy to be a volume purchase," said John Fowler, executive VP for Sun's network systems group. Schwartz quipped: "We hope AMD can keep up."

Schwartz also claimed there was a myth in the industry that companies could only make a low profit on lower-end servers. If you add in software and middleware sales around the servers, "there are fabulous profits to be made", he said.