Sun Server Plays to Midtier

Solaris 8-based Sun Fire V880 enables application consolidation at an aggressive price point.

Sun Microsystems Inc. makes a major play for the midrange server market with this weeks announcement of the Sun Fire V880 server. eWeek Labs exclusive tests of the server show that it will allow IT departments to consolidate multiple applications on a single server at an aggressive price point.

The Solaris 8-based Sun Fire V880 scales up to eight UltraSPARC III 750MHz processors and is priced to compete with Intel Corp. eight-way servers. We were impressed with the Sun Fire V880s manageability and capability and recommend its use as an application server, a database server or even a file server using Samba or Suns Solaris PC Netlink. (See eWeek Labs review of Samba 2.2.2 at www.

The Sun Fire V880 is priced from $29,995 for two processors and 8GB of RAM to $119,995 for a fully loaded system with eight processors and 32GB of RAM. The new server sits between Suns entry-level Netra line and its high-end enterprise server line.

Unlike the high-end machines, the Sun Fire V880 cannot be split into multiple domains. However, even without partitioning, the Sun Fire V880 will work well as a tool for consolidating multiple applications onto one server. Through the use of processor sets, we were able to isolate application activity to specific processors.

For example, in the four-CPU Sun Fire V880 we tested, we bound an iPlanet Web server to two of the Sun Fire processors. Even when the load maxed out on those processors, applications running on the remaining CPUs were not affected.

Each of the Sun Fires processors has 8MB of external cache, and processors and RAM are bundled together on the same board. (A board holds two processors and up to 8GB of RAM.)

The Sun Fire V880 is bigger than Intel-based eight-way servers and thus can store about eight to 10 more internal hard drives.

The Sun Fires chassis is also easy to navigate because of the extra space, although we would also like to see a rack-optimized version with a smaller footprint.

The Sun Fires internal storage system is a Fibre Channel arbitrated loop system that supports hot- swappable hard drives. Oddly, though, the server doesnt include a hardware RAID controller; RAID management is instead accomplished by software. Shops that require high-performance storage will probably need to use external storage systems.

The Sun Fire allows administrators to hot-plug and hot-swap PCI cards. In tests, we were able to add a Symbios Inc. SCSI adapter and mount devices on it without rebooting the server. We also found that the hot-swap capability was fairly intelligent: It wouldnt let us remove storage adapters unless we first unmounted the volumes that were linked to them.