Blueprints for Suns New Direction

Reference architecture for large messaging center impresses but might be too Sun-centric for some.

Sun Microsystems Inc.s new Reference Architectures wont make a plug-and-play affair out of the arduous process of ordering a complete Internet messaging implementation or constructing an enterprise-class data warehouse. However, both of these architectures do provide IT managers with a solid foundation on which to build customized large-scale solutions that will fit their organizations specific needs and budgets.

Suns Reference Architecture initiatives are far more than simple marketing white papers, as eWeek Labs discovered when we kicked the tires of a fully functional Messaging IDC (Internet Data Center)-based system at the companys Menlo Park, Calif., campus.

The Reference Architectures will bring more legitimacy to Suns Professional Services divisions and to the resellers that learn to deploy them. But until Reference Architecture-based systems gain traction in the market—a process that may take months or even years—Sun will continue to be seen more as a solid hardware vendor than as an end-to-end solution provider.

Sun isnt banking on IT managers purchasing its Reference Architecture solutions exactly as designed, according to company officials, but customers are likely to use 50 percent to 80 percent of Suns "suggestions" in their production environments.

It is difficult to estimate the actual costs of Suns Reference Architecture solutions for two basic reasons. First, these blueprints (although they are heavy on Sun hardware) include software and hardware from a variety of vendors, and Sun really has no control over price fluctuations at these companies. For example, if Foundry Networks Inc. decides to raise the prices of its ServerIron load balancers, Sun would have no control over that.

A second reason is that it is difficult to put a price on value-added services. Implementation costs can vary significantly from company to company depending on how much customization is required.

Finally, it is difficult to put an overall price on these solutions because the vast majority of Reference Architectures wont ship exactly as configured in Suns plans.

We recommend that IT managers get competitive bids from multiple integrators and resellers and Suns Professional Services division to find the architecture that best matches their enterprises in terms of services delivered and price.

The benefit of the Reference Architecture in bidding wars is that companies will get an apples-to-apples comparison price that they can shop from bidder to bidder.

The Messaging IDC Reference Architecture that we analyzed provides a powerful—yet flexible—blueprint for implementing a large-scale messaging infrastructure. The solution was designed to serve 1 million e-mail boxes, enabling about 100,000 users to concurrently access the mail server and provide enterprise-class reliability and scalability.

The Messaging IDC Reference Architecture provides IT managers with step-by-step instructions on how to configure enterprise-class solutions using components that have been rigorously tested by Suns engineers.

Whats Inside

Covering virtually every hardware and software component needed for a large-scale messaging system, the Reference Architecture is versatile enough to accommodate components that were not included in the original design. However, shops that wish to run Linux or Windows servers may find that the choices in this Reference Architecture are too Sun-centric.

The largest weakness we saw in Suns Messaging IDC Reference Architecture—and one that could well make it less attractive as a corporate solution—is its lack of groupware and calendaring functionality.

Considering that most corporations currently have technology road maps calling for unified messaging and calendaring, Suns Reference Architecture could be outdated quickly if the company doesnt provide this additional functionality in the plan in the very near future.

However, ISPs that are only trying to deliver simple e-mail servers to their users will probably not see the omission of groupware and calendaring as a major flaw.

To ensure availability in the Messaging IDC Reference Architecture, Sun and Foundry designed a highly redundant network with multiple load balancers and two core switches.

At the edge of the network are twin Foundry NetIron Internet Core Routers, each of which is followed by a security cluster consisting of Foundry ServerIron load balancers and SunScreen firewalls running on Sun Netra T-1 AC 200 servers. The implementation we saw in Suns lab had only two firewalls, but IT managers could use the load balancers to easily add more firewall units.

The final networking group is a pair of Foundry BigIron Layer 3 load balancing switches, which are used to link all the servers to the network.

The core of the Messaging IDC system consists of Suns iPlanet divisions iPlanet Messaging Server 5.1 running on a wide array of Sun servers.

The biggest servers used were the twin Sun Fire 6800 servers, which were clustered for failover using Sun Cluster 3.0, and they acted as the message store servers.

Eight Sun Netra T 1405 servers (each with four processors and 4GB of RAM) complete the messaging infrastructure and provide support for LDAP, DNS (Domain Name System), mail transfer agent I/O and Message Multiplexor service. The e-mail systems storage infrastructure consists of six Sun StorEdge A1000 and 18 Sun StorEdge T-3 storage array units.

Solid-State Storage

Probably the most interesting aspect of the storage infrastructure is the redundant pair of Imperial Technology Inc. MegaRam 2000 solid-state disk units, which provided high-speed message queues.

The Messaging IDC Reference Architecture includes a Server Sizing guide, which contains detailed server performance information based on the benchmarks that have been run at Suns labs. Using this performance information, IT managers will be able to see exactly what kind of server hardware they need.

In addition, the Messaging IDC Reference Architecture comes with an interesting array of management tools, covering performance management (a package from TeamQuest Corp.) and server management (via Suns SunMC).

iPlanets Delegated Admin package, which allows for administrative granularity in this solution, is extremely useful. Using Delegated Admin, an ISP or IT manager can divide the e-mail solution into sections, so different companies or departments within a company can have administrative rights over their own e-mail users and content.

Micromuse Inc.s Netcool management suite provides a centralized view that shows all the alerts produced by the components of Suns Messaging IDC Reference Architecture.

Sun implemented Micromuses ISMs (Internet Service Monitors) to create an SLA (service-level agreement) management view. Using Micromuse ISMs, an ISP can make sure that services such as DNS and LDAP are performing on par with prearranged SLAs.

Micromuses Netcool suite also works together with Foundrys Ironview management tool to report on network alerts related to the Foundry networking equipment.

Directions for Use

The documentation for Suns Messaging IDC Reference Architecture is top-notch. The implementation guide clearly spells out the capabilities of each component in the Reference Architecture and how the entire system works.

We were surprised and impressed with the easy-to-follow, step-by-step information on how to configure each component. Sample configuration files for networking components are also included. These files allow IT managers to simply plug their values (for server names and IP addresses) into the bundled sample files to configure their networking components.

Equally impressive instructions for configuring software components are also included.

Senior Analyst Henry Baltazar can be contacted at

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