Sun Fire Server Measures Up

The high-performance v65x edges similar x86 machines in price.

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Sun Microsystems Inc.s decision to enter the x86 server space has faced skepticism from the industry, but eWEEK Labs tests showed that the Sun Fire v65x is not only an effective, inexpensive server built with off-the-shelf Intel Corp. parts, but when coupled with Suns upcoming Sun Control Station management software, it will also up the ante considerably in non-Windows environments.

Although its an x86 server in a market that doesnt support Windows, the v65x isnt a fish out of water: Sun is aiming it at HPC (high-performance computing) and grid computing environments where low-cost Linux boxes are harnessed to run custom cluster applications. We believe tight-budgeted departments and smaller businesses looking for a general-purpose server should consider the v65x. However, these shops will need Linux or Unix expertise to fully exploit the Sun Fire device.

The Sun Fire v65x faces a lot of competition in the already-crowded rack-optimized x86 server space. Vendors such as Dell Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM all have similar 2U (3.5-inch) systems that have longer histories than the v65x.

The v65x has a decided edge in price, however. The server, which shipped this month, starts at $2,650 for a single-Xeon system. The unit we tested—with dual 3GHz Intel Xeon processors; 512KB of Layer 2 cache; 2GB of double-data-rate error-correcting code synchronous dynamic RAM; three 36GB Ultra320 hard drives; and dual, on-board Gigabit NICs—lists for a mere $5,870. Red Hat Inc.s Red Hat Advanced Server 2.1 was preinstalled. The v65x supports only Red Hat Linux 7.3 at launch, but support for other Red Hat versions and Solaris 9 is forthcoming, Sun officials said.

Sun Fire v65x

Sun Fire v65x The latest x86 server from Sun offers a low-cost way for shops interested in using Linux or Solaris on x86 to run general applications or HPC systems. The SCS management suite, slated for release later this year, will provide an even stronger case for buying the v65x. A single-processor Sun Fire v65x starts at a low $2,650, and upgrading the system with Solaris 9 is free for a limited time—price is one area where Suns v65x has an edge on its competition..
















  • PRO: Inexpensive; useful SCS management package; scalable.
  • CON: Limited operating system support; some internal components are difficult to swap out.

• Dells PowerEdge 2650 • HPs ProLiant DL380 G3 • IBMs xSeries 345

We configured a comparable PowerEdge 2650 via Dells Web site, and the price came out to about $7,385. The most closely priced system, HPs ProLiant DL380 G3 with a similar configuration, costs $6,425. (IBM hasnt shipped 3GHz processors with its xSeries 345 servers).

The server we tested had a single, 500-watt power supply. For an extra $245, the v65x can also support hot-swap, redundant power. However, the server has no hot-swappable fans, and many of the systems internal components are designed for quick access, so changing them can be a chore.

With six dual in-line memory module slots to support as much as 12GB of memory using 2GB memory modules, the v65x scales well. The compact, 2U v65x also has plenty of headroom for tackling application expansion needs, with six 64-bit PCI-X slots and six hard drive bays.

Tighter Controls on Tap

The upcoming SCS Management Suite will provide inventory tracking and software deployment for the v65x server. It will also monitor service, health and performance. The SCS is in beta tests and is slated for a fall release. Sun has not disclosed pricing for the management software.

In our exclusive tests of the beta version, we found that SCS will be a valuable addition for managing large farms of Linux and Solaris x86 server systems. The SCS software allowed us to tightly manage and monitor our v65x system using a standard Web browser such as Internet Explorer (see screen). The SCS is installed on a dedicated Linux system. (We used a Sun LX50 server running Red Hat Linux as the SCS server.)

Want to know what Sun CEO McNealy thinks of Linux—and his companys future? Read eWEEKs in-depth interview.

Technical Analyst Francis Chu is at