Sun Microsystems last week unveiled its most powerful Solaris server to date, the Sun Fire 15K. The Unix server will scale to as many as 106 processors and 500 Gbytes of memory in a single box and will support up to 5 petabytes of exterior storage. More important, software in the 15K makes it easier to maintain and manage than other Unix servers.
Sun has been developing the 15K for at least seven years and has had to overcome technical challenges involving data integrity, performance, and reliability. But CEO Scott McNealy says the 15K was worth the wait and will outperform any rival, from an IBM mainframe to a top-of-the-line Dell server. "Dell won't get there slapping those little cereal boxes from the variety pack to a switch,'' McNealy says. "That's not going to be a big honking server like the 15K.''
Mike Vildibill, deputy director of the San Diego Supercomputing Center, a research center of the University of California at San Diego, tested an early version of the 15K last November and was impressed. He expects to have a production version in-house as soon as this week. The pre-beta 15K has been more stable than many of the production-ready servers he's used, he says, and its simplicity and amount of memory will let it process more data than the center's most powerful computer, an IBM SP. Within a year, Vildibill expects to manage 250 terabytes of data on the 15K for projects involving the human genome.
"Scientists' careers are spent trying to decompose models on massively parallel systems from IBM,'' Vildibill says. Because decomposition takes place in high-speed memory on the 15K, and not between multiple nodes, "it's taking 70% less time to run the apps,'' he says. The Sun Fire 15K will be available next month and will be priced between $1.4 million and $10 million.