Sun Fire: Home on the Midrange

By Francis Chu  |  Posted 2003-09-29 Print this article Print

V440 server packs power but doesn't support PCI-X.

Sun Microsystems Inc.s latest midrange Solaris server, the Sun Fire V440 server, is versatile and manageable. However, its lack of RAID options and PCI-X support might deter prospective customers.

The Sun Fire V440 shipped earlier this month at a competitive starting price of less than $10,000 for a two-way system. The entry-level four-way system starts at $15,995, which is aggressive as well. eWEEK Labs tested the four-way configuration.

Despite its limitations in hardware support, the Sun Fire V440 will be a good candidate as a second-tier application server for several reasons. Among these are its aggressive price, strong management and rock-solid availability features, as well as its support for a range of horizontal applications such as enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management, mail, or data mining.

In addition, the Sun Fire V440s compact form makes it a good fit in space-strapped data center environments.

The scalable server packs plenty of horsepower to tackle demanding enterprise applications with the ability to support two-to-four-processor configurations. Using the latest UltraSPARC IIIi processors running at 1.06GHz or 1.28GHz, each CPU has four DIMM (dual in-line memory module) slots to support a system total of up to 16GB of double-data-rate memory using 1GB DIMMs.

The $26,000 Sun Fire device that we tested included four 1.28GHz UltraSPARC processors with 1MB of internal cache, 16GB of memory, four 36GB Ultra320 SCSI hard drives, dual embedded Gigabit Ethernet ports, ALOM (Advanced Lights Out Manager) and Solaris 8.

Sun Fire V440
Suns latest midrange Sun Fire server is easy to manage and aggressively priced, and it will be a good fit for Solaris shops looking for a scalable application server in the data center. The V440 starts at less than $10,000 with two UltraSPARC IIIi processors and 4GB of memory. Adding faster processors and more memory can bring the system price to $15,000-plus.  
  • PRO:Latest Sun processors; on-board management capabilities; chassis components are easy to access.

  • CON: Limited RAID capabilities; doesnt support PCI-X.

    Hewlett-Packard Co.s ProLiant DL580 G2 IBMs xSeries 440/445
    The Sun Fire V440 can accommodate as many as four Ultra320 SCSI drives, although capacity choices are limited—only 36GB or 73GB drives are supported. The four drives are hot-swappable and are controlled by an embedded SCSI controller on the motherboard that can provide a limited RAID 1 (mirroring) capability.

    Although it will be nice to have more RAID options on the embedded controller, IT managers can connect external storage enclosures for larger RAID volumes.

    The Sun Fire V440 can also support as many as six 64-bit PCI slots with three running at 64MHz. However, the Sun server doesnt support the faster PCI-X (PCI-Extended) buses that are now common in competing Intel-based servers.

    The dual, redundant, hot-swappable power supplies are located at the front of the server for easy access and provide cooling airflow to the processor modules in the back. The system can run with one power supply, but Sun doesnt recommend doing so because the processors depend on the power supplies for cooling.

    The UltraSPARC IIIi is Suns flagship processor; the i-Series is the SPARC-V9 architecture design with the inclusion of a memory controller in the CPU. The i-Series is the implementation for midrange servers such as the Sun Fire V440, whereas the s-Series, with more advanced performance features, is targeted at higher-end servers.

    The Sun Fire V440s modular CPU design makes it easy to replace or upgrade CPUs and memory simultaneously. However, this also meant we had to take out the CPU when adding memory in tests. Each CPU module contains one UltraSPARC IIIi CPU, 4 DIMM slots with dedicated memory controller and DC-DC converters.

    The Sun Fire V440 is housed in a 4U (7-inch) rack-mount enclosure where every modular component, including the CPUs, can be easily accessed. The chassis is not completely tool-less, however; there are several lock-down screws that will require a screwdriver.

    After we unscrewed the lock-down screw from the front, two levers swung the top-hinged lid of the server upward with ease, providing easy access to the CPU, memory and PCI slots. Instead of a bezel covering the front panel, as is the case with most servers, two hinged plastic doors let us easily remove or insert hot-plug hard drives and power supplies.

    The power and system control key switch is located above the DVD-ROM drive.

    The front panel also houses the SCC (system configuration card) reader. The SCC has a smart chip that stores certain system configurations and settings that are useful when replacing or upgrading new systems with minimal downtime. The SCC contains the host ID, Ethernet MAC (media access control) addresses for the on-board NICs, boot variables, and the user and system data for the ALOM feature.

    Although the SCC can provide IT managers with a quick way to bring up new servers with similar configurations, the Sun Fire V440 is dependent on the SCC to operate and will shut down within 30 seconds without it. Unauthorized users can quickly shut down the server by pulling out the card, so IT managers should keep the server locked when the system is running.

    With the new ALOM capabilities, Sun has addressed out-of-band management of the Sun Fire V440. The lights-out manager provides remote control, monitoring and notification capabilities out of the box without the need to install any software on the server.

    In tests, we found that the ALOM provided very useful commands and operational data. We could quickly connect to the server remotely and safely manage the Sun Fire V440.

    Technical Analyst Francis Chu can be reached at


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