Sun Server Delivers Heavyweight Performance

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

Jeff Ballard, Contributor

July 10, 2008

4 Min Read

New to the Sun Fire X4150, and also being added by many vendors, are USB ports inside the computer case. These are intended to hold storage-boot devices for hypervisors--for example, ESXi, the embedded version of VMware ESX. Booting in this configuration allows for two new storage options: completely dedicated local storage for your virtual machines, or completely diskless servers that rely entirely on a SAN or another network-based storage. We installed VMware ESXi on a 1-GB USB storage device, then were able to remove the hard drives from our system and have ESXi use NFS-based storage.

The internal USB ports are fully functional, so you can enclose almost any small USB device within the computer. This is useful if you have an expensive USB license or security key that you want to protect.

The Lights Out Management service processor in the X4150 can manage the server in five ways: serial connection, SSH, SNMP, IPMI, or via HTTP. The serial connection and SSH use the same interface. The server supports both SNMP gets and SNMP traps, and offers different levels of access control to multiple users.

The HTTP management interface is nice and straightforward. Status indications are easy to find, and it's easy to alter the power state of the computer. We could even create HTTPS certificates as needed, a feature that's missing on many service processors.

However, to view the physical console, you will need to use a Java Web Start-based application. The Java-based remote interface provides a view of the physical console and allows for connecting floppy and CD drives to the local computer, which we like, but its latency and sluggish performance showed it's no substitute for being on the actual console. The Java Web Start interface did not greatly affect Linux installations, but it made Windows Server installs a bit more challenging. This is something to consider if you need to do many custom Windows installations and are planning on using the remote console.

Expandable Storage


16 slots

PCI-e Capacity

3 slots

Network Connectivity

4 Gigabit Ethernet ports




Dual quad-core Intel Harpertown processors

Maximum Memory

64 GB--16 DIMM slots

OS Support

Solaris 10, VMware Virtual Infrastructure 3, Novell SLES 10, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5, Microsoft Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2008

Network Connectivity

4 Gigabit Ethernet ports

The Sun Fire X4150 has three options when it comes to storage: the embedded SATA controller, the LSI Logic-based StorageTek SAS controller, and the Adaptec-based StorageTek SAS RAID controller. We tested the StorageTek SAS RAID controller and were impressed by its features and OS integration. On the downside, the RAID controller will consume one of your PCI-e slots.

The RAID controller can be managed either via the BIOS during system boot or via a Java-based program that worked on all the operating systems we tested, except VMware. We could see and manipulate RAID controller settings as well as RAID arrays themselves, even while they were in use.

Building and altering RAID configurations historically has been a fragile process. Not so with the StorageTek SAS RAID card. Despite repeated attempts to derail the RAID rebuilding process, the RAID card carried on and never missed a beat.

One restriction we found was that the size of the partition can only increase, not decrease. Sun claims it will enable shrinking partition sizes in a software release later this year.

The Sun Fire X4150's Locator Indicator LEDs are a small yet handy feature that IT staff will appreciate. From the service processor, you can trigger bright white LEDs to blink on the front and back of the server to ensure that you're working on the correct machine.

The list price of the Sun Fire X4150 as tested was $9,711. The SAS drives cost $379 each (or just under a third of the cost of the server as tested). With all of its disks configured as RAID 60, the X4150 would make an excellent compact database server, video server, virtualization platform, or other data-critical machine.

Even without its disks, the X4150 is a powerhouse of performance in a small profile.

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