V480 Harnesses UltraSPARC III Power

Sun server boosts speed, offers high 32GB memory.

The Sun Fire V480 (see picture), Sun Microsystems Inc.s latest entry-level server, packs plenty of fire power in a compact 5U (8.75-inch) form factor. eWeek Labs tests showed the V480 will be a good choice as an application server, a database server, or even as a high-performance Web or file server in workgroups or as cluster servers.

The Sun Fire V480, which began shipping in June, features four 900MHz Sun UltraSPARC III processors and up to 32GB of RAM. (This is the first four-way Sun server eWeek Labs has seen using UltraSPARC III processors.)

The V480 is positioned to compete with four-way servers based on Intel Corp.s Xeon technology from vendors including Dell Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM. The Sun Fire V480 is priced from just under $23,000 for two processors and 4GB of RAM to just under $100,000 for a fully loaded system with four processors and 32GB of RAM.

By comparison, a decked-out four-way Dell PowerEdge 6650 is priced at $33,564. (For our June 3 review of the PowerEdge 6650, go to www. eweek.com/links.)

The V480 we tested, which lists for $46,995, had four 900MHz UltraSPARC III processors with 8MB of external cache memory, 16GB of error-correcting-code synchronous dynamic RAM, two high-performance 36GB internal FC-AL (Fibre Channel Arbitrated Loop) disk drives, a hardware RAID controller and Suns System Service Processor card. The V480 also has dual-embedded 10/100/ 1,000 Gigabit copper Ethernet interfaces, as well as a Fibre Channel external connector.

The test system came with a Sun StorEdge T-3 storage array with nine 36GB FC-AL drives. (The StorEdge T-3 array costs $38,600 purchased separately.) Sun offered a V480/T-3 bundle with our test configuration for $74,995, a savings of more than $10,000.

The V480 features Suns new FirePlane interconnect, which company officials said provides superior memory and I/O bandwidth compared with standard systems. The FirePlane is a single, bus-switch-based interconnect that can process multiple transactions "in flight," reducing transaction times by allowing multiple transactions to interleave while they are in the FirePlane interconnect and the processor.

The V480 has plenty of room for I/O expansions, with six open, 64-bit PCI slots, two running at 66MHz and the rest at 33MHz. One PCI slot was reserved for the System Service Processor card that runs the RSC (Remote System Control) software.

The RSC 2.0 card provides good remote management of the V480. In tests, we could access the V480 through the RSC card via the Ethernet, serial and modem ports. The hardware can run on standby power and also has a battery backup, so administrators can remotely access the V480 even if the server is not online.

The V480 has fewer PCI slots than the Dell PowerEdge 6650 and doesnt offer that systems hot-plug capability. We were also disappointed that the V480 doesnt support PCI-X buses. Competing Intel-based systems including the PowerEdge 6650, HPs Compaq ProLiant DL580 G2 and IBMs Xseries 360 servers offer PCI-X bus support on all slots.

Although the V480 boasts fast FC-AL hard drives, it can accommodate only 144GB of internal storage on a pair of 72GB drives. IT managers who need more storage must purchase external storage arrays to bolster the Sun Fire V480s capacity. Although this wont necessarily be an issue for organizations that already have network-attached storage or storage area network systems, it will be an additional cost concern for smaller sites.

The Sun Fire V480 performed well in Web server and file server performance tests, achieving more than 366M bps in tests using Ziff Davis Media Inc.s NetBench 7.0 benchmark, which measures file server performance. The V480 server runs the Solaris 8 operating system, and we used a Samba file share in the T-3 array to test file server performance.

The V480 also did well in WebBench 4.0 benchmark tests, which measure server response to Web client requests. Running a static workload using Suns iPlanet Web server, the V480 scored more than 12,600 tps (transactions per second).

To ensure that we didnt have any networking bottlenecks, we used both copper Gigabit NICs on the server with two sets of Windows 2000 clients in two subnets. The high WebBench result is due to the large memory and I/O bandwidth of the V480 and the caching capabilities of the iPlanet Web server. The V480 never had to hit the disk subsystem during the test because the iPlanet Web server cached the entire workload in memory, giving us blazing fast results.

The V480s modular, rack-mount chassis makes servicing the system simple. The power supplies and disk drives are hot-swappable and can be accessed from the front of the server without using any tools. However, to get to the hardware components, we still needed to remove the top panels.

The V480 can support as much as 32GB of RAM in a four-processor system. The processors and memory reside in CPU/memory modules that can be easily removed for service. Each module holds two processors and has 16 DIMM (dual in-line memory module) sockets supporting 256MB, 512MB or 1GB capacities. When upgrading the memory, the DIMMs must be added to the system in groups of four with same-size DIMMs. (Different-capacity modules can be used within the group.)

Throughput from the processors to the memory reaches speeds of up to 2.4G bps.

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