By Francis Chu  |  Posted 2004-02-09 Print this article Print

IT managers looking for a well-managed, high-density server blade system to host Linux or Solaris applications should consider the latest blade system offered by Sun Microsystems Inc., the Sun Fire B1600 Blade Platform. In eWEEK Labs tests, we were impressed by the Sun Fire B1600 Blade Platforms flexibility, the array of services available and the redundancy features the system offers. The platform is designed to be self-contained, making it practical for enterprises to deploy and manage their Web server, application server, database, load balancing service and SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) acceleration service in the same box.

Sun boosts the flexibility of this blade system by offering SPARC and x86 server blades. Although Sun doesnt offer the fastest x86 or SPARC processors in the current Sun Fire blades, the high density of the B1600 system lets companies add more blades as needed. This can be less expensive than buying more servers with faster processors.

The Sun Fire B1600 Blade Platform shipped in December. Its Intelligent Shelf blade chassis is priced at $4,795. The blades that can populate the chassis include B100s single-processor SPARC server blades and B100x single-processor x86 server blades, which start at $1,795 each with 1GB of memory and $2,795 with 2GB of memory. The B10n SSL proxy blade is priced at $9,375, and the load balancing B10p blade costs $13,800.

The $45,920 Sun Fire B1600 system that we tested included the blade chassis, three B100x server blades, six B100s server blades, a B10p proxy blade and a B10n load balancing blade.

The blades worked well in tests, performing standard network traffic management and acceleration tasks.

The Intelligent Shelf blade chassis stands at a compact 3U (5.25 inches) high and can accommodate as many as 16 Sun Fire blades, plus redundant networking switches, power and cooling mechanisms, as well as system management.

With support for 16 server or specialty blades (and a total of 224 blades per rack), the Sun Fire B1600 offers excellent computational density for tier-one applications in data center environments.

The B1600 chassis is highly modular, with dual redundant power supplies and an SSC (Switch and System Controller) with 16 Gigabit Ethernet connections to the blades and eight external Gigabit Ethernet ports. A second SSC, priced at $1,795, can be added for redundancy.

The SSC integrates an SNMP-compliant Layer 2 switch and a System Controller that manages all components within the chassis. The switch and System Controller can be accessed via a command-line or Web interface.

The passive midplane in the chassis connects all the components with redundant wiring. For example, each blade has two connections to the SSCs and power supply units, and the systems matrix power grid design ensures that the blades are properly powered even if some of the power circuits fail.

The Sun Fire B100s blade uses UltraSPARC IIi processors (whereas Sun currently offers UltraSPARC IIIi processors in its higher-end servers) and can run either Solaris 8 or 9. The B100s has a single 650MHz UltraSPARC IIi processor, dual Gigabit Ethernet interfaces and an internal 30GB IDE drive.

The B100x x86 server blade uses Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s 1.53GHz Mobile Athlon XP 1800+ processor. The B100x uses Via Technologies Inc.s KT333 chip set and has dual Gigabit Ethernet interfaces and a 30GB IDE drive.

Its intriguing that Sun chose the AMD Mobile Athlon processor for its x86 blades. Although mobile processors have not been proved in the enterprise server space in terms of performance and dependability, they are suitable for blade systems because they generate little heat and use comparatively little power.

We believe Suns processor choice is likely due to cooling requirements. The B100x blade is designed to run Linux or the Solaris x86 edition, and it currently supports Red Hat Inc.s Red Hat Enterprise Linux or SuSE Linuxs SuSE Linux Enterprise Server.

The Sun Fire B10n offers Layer 4-7 load balancing and supports active/passive failover with B10n server load balancing blades. The B10p blade offloads SSL traffic encryption and decryption, and it provides a central point for certificate administration and storage.

The B10n and B10p blades are managed by the SSCs that direct incoming traffic from the switch for load balancing and SSL offloading. Using the System Controller, we configured load balancing rules and set up SSL configurations using the command-line interface.

Using the B10n and B10p blades, IT managers can save rack space and have a more tightly integrated system without the need to manage multiple separate devices.

The B1600 blade system competes most closely with comparably priced single-processor blade offerings from RLX Technologies Inc. RLXs ServerBlades 800i, 1200i and 1000t solutions, equipped with Pentium III and Transmeta Corp. processors, can hold 24 blades in a single 3U System 300ex chassis.

In terms of availability, however, the Sun Fire B1600 blades get the edge because they are self-contained and can be easily accessed. RLX blades, in contrast, are harder to insert and remove.

Another competitor, Dell Inc.s PowerEdge 1655MC is Pentium III-based and holds six dual-processor blades in a 3U chassis. However, although both RLX and Dell offer blades with more powerful processors, the Sun Fires B1600 blades hold more memory in a single blade.

We were disappointed that SSH (Secure Shell) sessions, which ensure higher security in remote management, are not supported. Sun offers N1 Provisioning Server 3.0 Blades Edition for provisioning the B1600 platform but requires a separate Sun server to host the software.

Technical Analyst Francis Chu can be reached at francis_chu@ziffdavis.com.


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