Last year, Sun announced the Galaxy server line, its first foray into the dual-core Opteron world. In conjunction with this, Sun sent us a preproduction unit of the Sun Fire X4100. Although it proved a formidable and cleverly designed machine, the X4100's preproduction status was readily apparent, and the duo ran into several significant issues.
A cousin of the X4100, the Sun Fire X4200, recently landed in my lab. Although it's not a bull's-eye, it's not far off the mark, seemingly free of many - but not all - of the problems afflicting its relative. The I/O subsystem is lacking in RAID5 support, for instance, and although hardly unique to this server, one of the 2.5-inch SAS drives died during a test.
Sun has packed quite a lot into the Sun Fire X4200. It physically resembles its SPARC-based Sun Fire brethren in a 2U form factor, sporting up-front USB ports, four hot-swap 2.5-inch 10,000 RPM SAS disks, an internal LSI RAID controller, four DDR400 ECC RAM slots per CPU, two PCI-X slots, a DVD drive, four Gigabit Ethernet ports, redundant power supplies, and Sun's Integrated Lights Out Manager interface.
Internally, the X4200 is nattily attired with a split-case design that places the mainboard and CPUs directly behind two banks of hot-swappable fans, keeping the power supplies off to the side, directly behind the disks, and separated from the main section by a full-length baffle. This design keeps the heat generated by the disks from being pushed across the mainboard.
As far as horsepower, the X4200 can handle two Opteron 200-series CPUs, leveraging AMD-8000 series chipset and HyperTransport technology to provide a fast path between the CPUs and RAM. It also handles up to 16GB of DDR400 ECC RAM, 8GB per CPU. Sun helpfully colour-coded the RAM slots to assist in proper RAM installation, and also provides RAM fault indicator LEDs on each bank to help identify a bad DIMM.
The Fujitsu 2.5-inch 10,000 RPM SAS drives are managed by an LSI SAS1064 controller that can handle as much as 3Gbps to each disk, and provides RAID functions. I've never been a fan of LSI RAID chipsets, but it appears to do the job, although drivers may be hard to come by if you're running a non-Sun supported Linux variant. Installing Windows will require a driver floppy - but there's no floppy drive in the server.
This RAID controller is also limited to RAID1 or RAID0, so with four disks, you can either mirror two and two or create a stripe of all four, but you can't run RAID5 across all the disks, which is unfortunate.
As many server manufacturers are discovering, it's not just performance that makes a server successful; it's also management. With the server market largely consolidating to a common pool of chipsets and CPU structures, performance across several similar servers from different vendors generally doesn't fluctuate greatly. The management aspects of those servers are what can set them apart.
In this arena, Sun has been working overtime. Service processors are becoming more common in the higher-end server class. The X4200 is no exception. Sun's ILOM provides SNMP, Web, and CLI-based server management via a dedicated 10/100 Ethernet interface. The Web GUI is obviously built on Java and can be quite pokey at times, taking several seconds to switch between tabs, for instance. It does provide the necessities such as remote power control, server health inspection, management configuration settings, and remote control capabilities, however.
The remote-control function is implemented quite nicely on the X4200. Requiring Java 5.0, it allows admins to gain remote KVM control of the server via an encrypted session to the service processor alone - no KVM switches necessary. Unlike similar implementations from other vendors, 16-bit graphical remote control is possible without extra cost and it's very well handled. The interface provides solid video reproduction and great mouse control, which is problematic on many remote KVM devices. All service processor interface functions, including the remote control application, ran flawlessly via Firefox on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X.