Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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7/10/2008
12:30 PM
Jeff Ballard
Jeff Ballard
Features
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Sun Server Delivers Heavyweight Performance

Sun Fire X4150 packs lots of power into small package, and doesn't need much juice.

Today's data center managers have to balance a host of server requirements, including physical space, power, and cooling. And virtualized servers must be reliable because one machine may be running the same number of applications that used to be spread across multiple physical devices.

Enter Sun Microsystems' Sun Fire X4150. The 1U server we tested came packed with dual 2.8-GHz quad-core Intel Harpertown processors, 16 dual in-line memory module (DIMM) slots, three PCI-E slots, and four Intel Gigabit Ethernet network interface cards. Despite all this capacity, the Sun Fire X4150 sips, and doesn't guzzle, electricity. In addition, the management and service processor makes it an ideal virtualization platform.

On the downside, the Java-based remote console is clunky and requires Java Web Start, which is part of the standard Sun Java Runtime Environment.

RACK 'EM UP
Sun crams a lot of gear into this 1U device. To put it in perspective, a standard rack can hold as many as 40 of these servers. Thus, a rack full of the units as we tested would give you a whopping 320 processor cores, 320 hot-swappable hard drives, 640 DIMM slots, 120 PCI-E slots, and 160 Gigabit Ethernet connections.

THE UPSHOT
CLAIM:  Sun Microsystems' Sun Fire X4150 aims to deliver an Intel-based 1U server that packs the punch of a larger machine. It includes eight hot-swappable hard drives and can support RAID 60 without external storage. The Sun Fire X4150 also has modest power requirements and supports Solaris, Windows Server, Linux, and VMware.

CONTEXT:  Known primarily for its Sparc processors, Sun has revamped its x64-based server line. Worries about Sun's support of operating systems other than Solaris are unfounded. The X4150 provides more bang for your server buck than comparable offerings from Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM.

CREDIBILITY:  The Sun Fire X4150 delivers the goods with 16 DIMM slots, three PCI-e slots, and dual quad-core Intel Harpertown processors. The X4150 supports up to 64 GB of memory and sports four Gigabit Ethernet slots, double what is offered by the Dell 1950, IBM x3550, and HP DL360. It offers heavyweight performance in a compact, energy-efficient package. The Service Processor also delivers excellent management features.
Typically, 1U servers are tight, awkward, and difficult to work with, but not the Sun Fire X4150. The chassis is easy to use and well designed. The front of the machine is full; it features up to eight 2.5-inch hard drives. The seven sets of fan modules also are easily hot swappable via an innovative top lid near the front, which is accessible when you slide the computer forward on its rails.

The X4150 we tested is rated at 319 watts of power usage when idle and 417 watts when busy, which is consistent with what we saw in the lab. Each 2.8-GHz processor in the machine uses 80 watts. Sun also offers a higher-performing Sun Fire X4150 with a faster 3.12-GHz processor, but that processor consumes 120 watts of power.

Cooling is a major concern in the design of 1U servers. An innovative hard drive enclosure allows air to flow around all parts of the drive, allowing for plenty of cooling for the rest of the machine.

As expected, the X4150's Solaris support is top notch. However, the X4150 also is an ideal machine to run VMware's Virtual Infrastructure 3, Novell's SLES 10, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5, and Microsoft Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008.

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Each of these operating systems installed with only minor annoyances. Windows 2003 does need additional RAID drivers to install properly; Sun provides a script that will rebuild a Windows Server 2003 installation CD to include the appropriate drivers. Windows Server 2008 had all the appropriate drivers built in.

We also used a beta version of Sun's Installation Assistant, which promises to smooth out minor installation snags. The Installation Assistant took charge to ensure that the right drivers were installed.

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