Sun has launched three Opteron-based servers aimed at network computing in data centres.

The Sun Fire X4500 data server, Sun Fire X4600 server and Sun Blade 8000 all use AMD's chip because it draws fewer watts and offers more sockets than competing processors like Intel's new "Woodcrest" dual-core Xeon, said Lisa Sieker, vice president of systems marketing at Sun.

Sun changed its server processors from Intel to AMD in 2003, and credits the change with helping push the company from a worldwide market share rank of 16th that year to sixth in 2005.

The launch comes at a difficult time for Sun. In April, co-founder Scott McNealy stepped down as chief executive and in May announced plans to lay off at least 4,000 people over the next six months.

Sun executives also reorganised the company, combining the Sparc and x64-based servers groups into a single systems group.

Sun hopes to use the X4600 server to seize market share from IBM and HP by offering a single eight-socket server to take the place of a collection of daisy-chained computers.

"Consolidation through virtualisation is a huge trend in the market today. Customers can consolidate 50 Xeon-based servers down to one Sun Fire with the X4600," Sieker said.

Sun has worked with NEC to test the new server in a massive installation at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, where 655 X4600 servers provided a total 10,480 cores.

The supercomputer ranks as the world's seventh largest, with its resources shared among the university's 10,000 engineering students.

The X4500, codenamed Thumper, which Sun calls "the industry's first hybrid data server," is based on a two-socket, dual-core, Opteron 285 server with up to 48 hot-swappable, 7,200rpm 500GB SATA drives for 24T bytes of storage.

This is packed into 4U of rack space. It uses a passive disk plane and has RAID implemented by software only. It runs under Solaris 10 and uses the ZFS file system.

The Tokyo supercomputer installation above has linked 42 of these together with 10Gbit/s Infiniband to provide a network-attached storage (NAS) system. The X4500 is cheaper to install than competing network-attached storage (NAS) with high performance, such as a $100,000 BlueArc Titan NAS system.

It is also cheaper than a storage area network (SAN) because there is no need for a costly Fibre Channel fabric.

It is targeted at large servers installations needing fast access to lots of data for data warehousing or high performance computing applications such as video processing and oil and seismic data analysis.

Sun Blade 8000
The Sun Blade 8000 is a modular blade server system, based on the company's “Galaxy” x64 server architecture.

With room for 10 four-socket computers sitting in a chassis, and cooling fans and I/O located on the chassis instead of the blade, the unit allows customers to expand systems over many years without worrying about replacing the entire system.

Available by the end of July, the base version of the X4600 is a four-socket machine with dual-core Opteron chips, selling for $29,995. And the base version of the 8000 includes a chassis and a dual-core blade server, selling for $19,940.

Available by mid-August, the base version of the X4500 will be a two-socket machine with 12TB of storage, selling for $32,995. There are full details here.