Common Questions about the Sun X2100 Server

28 Apr '06 - 16:10 by benr

The Sun Fire X2100 Server attracts a lot of interest, and rightly so. But I commonly get asked the same questions over and over, and some of the answers aren't ones that Sun really likes to answer, so I'll do it for them.

"Wow! Only $740!?! Whats the catch?" There isn't really a catch, but you need to know that the $740 model doesn't include hard drives or the DVD drive. For $740 you get an AMD Opteron Model 146 (2.0GHz, 1MB cache) and 512MB of RAM. If you want Dual-Core and 2GB your looking at $1,895.00, which also includes 1 drive.

Now, you need to understand something about this box. Its designed to be an HPC compute node, which is why it by default it ships with no drives and rather than a traditional PCI slot its got an 8x PCIe. If you you want 100 nodes connected using Infiniband or Dolphin SCI, then this is the box for you.

"I'd rather buy my own 500GB SATA drives for my X2100 but I'm worried about having SPUD brackets." I thought this very thing myself! On the Ultra 20's this is a problem because if you want to add a second disk (it comes with 1 by default) you need to buy a SPUD (the drive clip thingie) in order to mount the drive. Good news! Unlike older SPARC blanks, the "filler" SPUD's aren't welded, which means that you can simply remove the blank brackets, unscrew the filler plate with a phillips screw driver, and then mount your own drive.

NOTE! If you choose to buy a bare-bones X2100 don't forget to buy the DVD drive! While you can insert your own SATA disks, you can't insert your own DVD drive, so I highly recommend you buy it at a minimum, and remember that it doesn't come by default!

"Its got onboard video right?" Yup. There is a standard ATI RageXL onboard.

"I heard that the rail kit isn't included!" Indeed you are correct. These systems are being sold for as little as possible, so all accessories are sold as options, including the rack kit. You'll have to pay and additional $150 for the slide-rails, and another $95 if you want the cable-arm.

"I'm thinking about buying an X2100 for my house. How loud is it?" This is an extremely popular question. In a server room, its pretty quiet, but in your home it's a screamer. The specs rate the noise well above 50db even when idle. The small form factor means that the fans are small, and small means high-RPM, and high-RPM means whiney. Even stashed in your home closet, unless you have some good sound-proofing your going to get annoyed. And even in the office, my boss has forced me to put them in the server rooms rathar than allow me to work on them at my desk.

If you want a cheap Sun box for your home I'd recommend instead that you consider the Ultra 20. Its pretty quiet. But frankly, if you want a lot of horse power at home (for insteance, if you want a Solaris system to serve Sun Ray clients on your desk), your best bet is to build your own system.

"What do you think about the optional management card?" To put it bluntly, don't waste your money. The card is $150 and allows for remote management as well as full IPMI compliance. First and foremore you need to know that there are 2 Gigabit Ethernet interfaces onboard the system, if you install the management card you loose one of them to serve as the management port. So the trade off is managability vs dual ethernet adapters.

Furthermore, the optional management card for the X2100 is not the same as the iLOM on the X4100 and X4200 systems. You need to boot a DOS formated DVD in order to setup the card, and then you have to use the N1 System Manager on a dedicated box to manage them. While the software is pretty nice, allocating one box as management sucks, plus you need to setup a dedicated management network to manage all the systems. In short, you can't just plop the X2100 with Service Processor on your LAN and SSH to it, you need to plan things out before you deploy.

So, with reguards to the management interface, if your building a large HPC setup and you don't need both onboard gigs and you don't mind building an explicite management network, then totally get the card. For just about anyone else, don't bother. When in doubt, buy one, try it out, and then purchase additional cards if you like it later.

In closing... the X4100 is more expensive ($3,145.00 for 2 CPU's and 2G RAM) but the integrated service processor (iLOM) is amazing, the 10,000RPM SAS (Serial Attach SCSI) drives are sweet, you get 4 gigabit ethernet ports plus a dedicated 10/100 for the iLOM, plus you havetwo PCI-X Low Profile slots, redundant power supplies, redundant hot-swap fans, etc. The X2100 is cheap, but the X4100 is, imho, the best value around.

Also, if your either buying a lot of X2100's or your considering buying X4100/X4200's, call Sun, then ask for a prefered reseller and buy through the channel. So far I've seen discounts as high as 30% when using the channel, so just because you don't like the web store pricing doesn't mean you can't get an even sweeter deal by making a couple phone calls!

- - C O M M E N T S - -

A Sun sales rep recently informed me with very little detail that a revision/replacement for the X2100 is coming up that’ll bring it up to parity w.r.t. the iLOM found on the X4100/4200. No date known, but from our conversation I gather it would be within this year.

I was considering a X2100 for home, but got one to demo at work and the lack of iLOM really dissuaded me from buying one for personal use. Instead, I started looking at the HP DL145 G2… but I might hold on a while longer to see if this improved X2100 really happens.

Dale Ghent (Email) - 28 April '06 - 16:25

Just FYI, the ipmi console can be used with ipmitool ([[]]). keep up the good work Ben, Greetings from the Republic of San Marino.

Fabio Rapposelli (Email) (URL) - 28 April '06 - 17:24

San Marino rules! I’ve got to visit one day for Imola. I love that track.

benr - 28 April '06 - 18:32

I didn’t get the DVD drive, I just unhooked the bog-standard ATA connector between the motherboard and the DVD slot, and hooked up a standard DVD-ROM drive in it long enough to install Solaris, then took it out, closed the box and installed it in its rack.

Fazal Majid (Email) (URL) - 28 April '06 - 19:35

GridEngine works well with those Opteron servers!

And Sun Grid Rack System uses X2100 too…

Grid (URL) - 28 April '06 - 22:05

Do you know if the Optical drives from the v20z or v100,120,etc work in these? They all seemed to be some kind of low-profile drives…

David - 28 April '06 - 22:07

Build your own system? I’m tempted to but I’ve heard complaints that Solaris Nevada can be hard to install on stock hardware. Problems with drive controllers seem to be the most popular.

Do you have any hardware recommendations for people looking to build a machine about equivalent to the x2100? Thanks!

Steve Jenson (Email) (URL) - 29 April '06 - 00:31

Good summary. We have ~40 of these in use; they do indeed rock. A few observations:

1) The SMDC card is most handy if you need to do remote power-on/off of the system and to detect faults (fans, etc). It is worth the $$ if you don’t have a) remote power control (via the power strip/etc) or, b) have your systems co-located elsewhere. Yeah, it is not as nice as the iLOM or DRAC from Dell, but it is better than having to drive down to the colo.

1a) Yes, the utility disk for the BIOS and SMDC card is a DOS booting CD. However, a better option is to take the image and put it on a USB thumbdrive. Much faster, portable and cheaper!

2) If you order the system and want to use your own drives (Sun requires you buy it with a single disk), make sure to request the blank drive fillers; they are the drive rails to use with other disks.

3) The 4GB ram cap is unfortunate.

4) Don’t waste money on the internal DVD; buy an external USB DVD drive.

5) The USB ports can drive you mad. Stick with the ones in the rear.

6) The system is LOUD. Yes, it only uses ~1A (for the dual-core system) but those fans are really really LOUD.

Alexei Rodriguez (Email) - 29 April '06 - 14:07

Does anyone know if the rails kit from the X4100/X4200 will fit on the X2100?

Also, regarding the first comment, any clue on if the pricing on the new X2100 revision will be the same?


Moazam (URL) - 29 April '06 - 17:08

I’m curious as to what you and others think about the quality of the Sun hardware products. I’ve used Sun Hardware (Sparc based Servers, Storage 3510’s, D1000 etc) over the years. I’ve found the Solaris OS to be about as solid as an OS can get which is why I like it among other things. But the hardware has had issues at the companies I’ve worked for.

I brought in a lot of Sun servers at my latest company. We also use HP(RISC Based), IBM (INTEL and others). We are replacing cpu boards, bad memory, disk and disk controllers for the Sun systems at a much higher rate than the other hardware makers.

I like what Sun is doing and the new hardware they are coming out with but I’m dealing with a increasing bad reputation for their hardware. Have others experienced this? Or am I being followed by a black cloud?


Mark Griffin (Email) (URL) - 30 April '06 - 11:16

Moazam- No, the rail kits for X4100/X4200 and X2100 are diffrent.

Mark- I’m curious what kinds of problems your running into. The D1000’s and a lot of the older gear is getting old and the failure rates are pretty high, but anything less than about 5 years old should be fine, barring bad luck.

benr - 30 April '06 - 17:29

Most of the failures have been CPU boards for v880’s and v440’s along with disk controllers for the 3510’s. The equipment varies in age, some 3 to 4 years old, some only a 1 year. The failures occured sometimes within the first year to sometimes 3 years.

We are hooked up with Sun support so they help troubleshoot the problems. The end result has always been replacing a board.

Mark Griffin (Email) (URL) - 01 May '06 - 05:55

Is anyone else seeing realy poor disk performance on the X2100? well below SATA and disk capability (with solaris 10). This appears to be a device driver problem.

derek (Email) - 02 May '06 - 10:00

Derek: we have actually seen quite good disk IO performance on the x2100 systems. We use the Sun 80GB sata disks (Seagate); Under load we see ~20MB/sec without a problem.

We are running S10u1.

We have also used some 160GB sata disks and these have worked well.

Alexei Rodriguez (Email) - 02 May '06 - 13:13


Don’t know about anyone else, but one of your great overviews (like your Solaris admin blog posts) on the X4100 LOM capabilities would be really interesting to me.

Simon Brocklehurst (Email) (URL) - 03 May '06 - 04:35

I know the X2100 is a Pain, but if you like, i can configure them for you and be a little cheaper than buying off list. Let me know if your interested.

Mike (Email) - 05 May '06 - 12:37

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Matthew (Email) (URL) - 05 May '06 - 15:13

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Sarah (Email) (URL) - 05 May '06 - 23:41

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Sarah (Email) (URL) - 06 May '06 - 07:09

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Sarah (Email) (URL) - 06 May '06 - 08:56

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Peter (Email) (URL) - 06 May '06 - 16:23

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John (Email) (URL) - 06 May '06 - 20:17

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