Today's data center managers have to balance a host of server requirements, including physical space, power, and cooling. And virtualized servers must be reliable because one machine may be running the same number of applications that used to be spread across multiple physical devices.
Enter Sun Microsystems' Sun Fire X4150. The 1U server we tested came packed with dual 2.8-GHz quad-core Intel Harpertown processors, 16 dual in-line memory module (DIMM) slots, three PCI-E slots, and four Intel Gigabit Ethernet network interface cards. Despite all this capacity, the Sun Fire X4150 sips, and doesn't guzzle, electricity. In addition, the management and service processor makes it an ideal virtualization platform.
On the downside, the Java-based remote console is clunky and requires Java Web Start, which is part of the standard Sun Java Runtime Environment.
RACK 'EM UP
Sun crams a lot of gear into this 1U device. To put it in perspective, a standard rack can hold as many as 40 of these servers. Thus, a rack full of the units as we tested would give you a whopping 320 processor cores, 320 hot-swappable hard drives, 640 DIMM slots, 120 PCI-E slots, and 160 Gigabit Ethernet connections.
The X4150 we tested is rated at 319 watts of power usage when idle and 417 watts when busy, which is consistent with what we saw in the lab. Each 2.8-GHz processor in the machine uses 80 watts. Sun also offers a higher-performing Sun Fire X4150 with a faster 3.12-GHz processor, but that processor consumes 120 watts of power.
Cooling is a major concern in the design of 1U servers. An innovative hard drive enclosure allows air to flow around all parts of the drive, allowing for plenty of cooling for the rest of the machine.
As expected, the X4150's Solaris support is top notch. However, the X4150 also is an ideal machine to run VMware's Virtual Infrastructure 3, Novell's SLES 10, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5, and Microsoft Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008.
We also used a beta version of Sun's Installation Assistant, which promises to smooth out minor installation snags. The Installation Assistant took charge to ensure that the right drivers were installed.
The internal USB ports are fully functional, so you can enclose almost any small USB device within the computer. This is useful if you have an expensive USB license or security key that you want to protect.
The Lights Out Management service processor in the X4150 can manage the server in five ways: serial connection, SSH, SNMP, IPMI, or via HTTP. The serial connection and SSH use the same interface. The server supports both SNMP gets and SNMP traps, and offers different levels of access control to multiple users.
The HTTP management interface is nice and straightforward. Status indications are easy to find, and it's easy to alter the power state of the computer. We could even create HTTPS certificates as needed, a feature that's missing on many service processors.
However, to view the physical console, you will need to use a Java Web Start-based application. The Java-based remote interface provides a view of the physical console and allows for connecting floppy and CD drives to the local computer, which we like, but its latency and sluggish performance showed it's no substitute for being on the actual console. The Java Web Start interface did not greatly affect Linux installations, but it made Windows Server installs a bit more challenging. This is something to consider if you need to do many custom Windows installations and are planning on using the remote console.
|PCI-e Capacity||3 slots|
|Network Connectivity||4 Gigabit Ethernet ports|
|Power||Dual quad-core Intel Harpertown processors|
|Maximum Memory||64 GB--16 DIMM slots|
|OS Support||Solaris 10, VMware Virtual Infrastructure 3, Novell SLES 10, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5, Microsoft Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2008|
|Network Connectivity||4 Gigabit Ethernet ports|
The RAID controller can be managed either via the BIOS during system boot or via a Java-based program that worked on all the operating systems we tested, except VMware. We could see and manipulate RAID controller settings as well as RAID arrays themselves, even while they were in use.
Building and altering RAID configurations historically has been a fragile process. Not so with the StorageTek SAS RAID card. Despite repeated attempts to derail the RAID rebuilding process, the RAID card carried on and never missed a beat.
One restriction we found was that the size of the partition can only increase, not decrease. Sun claims it will enable shrinking partition sizes in a software release later this year.
The Sun Fire X4150's Locator Indicator LEDs are a small yet handy feature that IT staff will appreciate. From the service processor, you can trigger bright white LEDs to blink on the front and back of the server to ensure that you're working on the correct machine.
The list price of the Sun Fire X4150 as tested was $9,711. The SAS drives cost $379 each (or just under a third of the cost of the server as tested). With all of its disks configured as RAID 60, the X4150 would make an excellent compact database server, video server, virtualization platform, or other data-critical machine.
Even without its disks, the X4150 is a powerhouse of performance in a small profile.