Sun Fire Server Packs Storage Punch

Review: Sun Microsystems' Sun Fire X4500 combines processing power with storage management and protection.

Outfitted with a pair of dual-core Opteron CPUs and 24TB of raw storage in a compact 4U (7-inch) footprint, Sun Microsystems Sun Fire X4500 packs an impressive processing and storage punch.

Code-named Thumper, Suns innovative hybrid storage/server appliance will appeal to cost-conscious organizations with compute-intensive high-density and high-bandwidth data storage needs.

During an onsite review at Suns facilities in Menlo Park, Calif., eWEEK Labs tested an X4500 equipped with two Advanced Micro Devices Opteron 2.6GHz processors; 16GB of DDR (double data rate) memory; and 48 direct-attached, 3.5-inch, 500GB DeskStar SATA-II drives from Hitachi running at 7,200 rpm. Pricing for this configuration starts at $69,995. A 12TB version is also available, starting at $32,995.

The X4500, which started shipping in October, comes with Suns Solaris 10 pre-installed. The latest version of the operating system, Solaris 10 6/06, includes ZFS (Zettabyte File System), Suns self-healing, 128-bit pooled storage file system. (For eWeek Labs review of the newest version of Solaris 10, see "Sun gilds Solaris lily" at

In addition, Solaris 10 6/06 provides features such as transactional copy-on-write and 64-bit checksums to preserve data consistency, guard against silent data corruption and streamline disk administration tasks.


Support for Red Hats RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) will be added in the near future, according to Sun officials.

The design philosophy behind the X4500 departs from the current industry convention of aggregating storage resources into storage arrays. eWeek Labs believes storage arrays, or dedicated storage subsystems, add versatility but introduce the potential for added cost, complexity and performance bottlenecks.

The integrated X4500 solution will be a good fit at sites where deploying a SAN (storage area network) or NAS (network-attached storage) isnt feasible due to budgeting or physical space constraints or when higher data access throughput is desired.

With this simplified approach, Sun has managed to drive the price of storage well below $3 per gigabyte. With 1GB-per-second disk-to-network bandwidth and 2GB-per-second disk-to-memory bandwidth, the X4500 is well-suited for business intelligence, data warehousing and high-performance computing applications.

Unlike the conventional front-loading configuration, the X4500s 48 hot-swappable SATA (Serial ATA) drives are top-loading. In most cases, swapping out a drive will require sliding out the server from the rack to gain access to the failed disks. Suns "failure in place" model calls for annually scheduled replacement of failed hardware.

IT managers should consider whether this approach fits their serviceability plans. As we have said in the past, front-loading solutions provide greater accessibility at the expense of overall storage.

The X4500 comes with four Gigabit Ethernet ports, a single 10/100BaseT Ethernet port for server management, two PCI-X (PCI Extended) slots and four USB ports.

Power and cooling are handled by dual redundant, hot-swappable power supplies and five redundant, hot-swappable fan modules.

/zimages/1/28571.gifSun introduces modular storage for SMBs. Click here to read more.

Fault Manager, a new feature incorporated in Solaris 10 6/06 to deal with CPU and memory errors in x64 environments, diagnoses and takes offline faulty core, cache or DRAM (dynamic RAM) regions without interrupting normal server functionality. The X4500 also supports memory with ChipKill, which enhances DRAM ECC (error-correcting code) reliability by identifying and mapping out failed DIMMs (dual in-line memory modules).

Also included is Suns ILOM (Integrated Lights Out Manager), a remote service processor core that allows monitoring of server status through SSL (Secure Sockets Layer), SSH (Secure Shell), IPMI (Intelligent Platform Management Interface) 2.0 and SNMP interfaces. Remote clients can also map local optical drives and USB devices to the X4500 with this tool.

In tests, we were impressed by the X4500s robust data protection capabilities, thanks to its redundant failover components and ZFS technology. However, it should be noted that when using a lone X4500, its controller board is a single point of failure.

Although data will likely remain intact in the event of a controller failure, it will be inaccessible for the duration of the downtime needed to replace the inoperable component. IT managers should incorporate failover measures in mission-critical applications where uninterrupted service is imperative.

Technical Analyst Victor Loh can be reached at

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