Sun’s Q2 Galaxy Rollout

Posted on July 26, 2006

I sort of dropped the ball on coverage of the recent Network Computing rollout. I spent the morning in ER after Tamarah smooshed her finger and her fingernail kept the wound from healing. It hurt like crazy and she didn’t sleep all night but Tuesday morning we got her all fixed up and she was feeling better by that afternoon. I think we’ve all smashed our fingers at some point and know how much that sucks. I was bummed to miss the event but Tamarah kicks way more ass than any new Sun server. Despite that, I got busy and never really blogged about the announcements, so I’ll make up for that now.

The announcements during the NC were just as expected, leaked early as usual by the bastards^H^H^H^H^H^H folks at El Reg. Sure its fun to be ahead of the curve and see whats coming, but isn’t there something to be said for excitement and anticipation? I thought it fitting that Jonathan “leaked” Thumper the night before, definately securing his seat as King of Bloggers…. and he can’t get sued for sharing which is a plus. 😉

Last to be covered in the release was of course the one we wanted to see the most… Thumper, or as its now known Sun Fire X4500. I thought the number was interesting, given that the big and beefy Opteron offering is X4600 putting Thumper right in the middle. Hmmm, coincidence?

There are some really important things to note about Thumper. First and foremost, as Jonathan discussed, the age of ASIC driven (insert something here) has faded. Even top of the line storage solutions like 3Par are just really commodity servers in a squished form factor (with an onboard interconnect in 3Par’s case, but you get the point). I’ve joyfully blogged several times in the past about Solaris now being the dominate storage OS on the planet. Solaris has UFS and ZFS for the best of old and cutting edje filesystems, the best iSCSI initiator in the industry, soon to be the best iSCSI Target in the industry, and an iSNS server is in the works (more on that later, probe OpenSolaris for more in the meantime). We’ve even got OpenAFS if you want it (thanks libkeiser!!!).

So Solaris is this great and wonderful storage platform. Surely it couldn’t compete with “real” enterprise storage solutions… but wait, ZFS has excellent snapshot capabilities, compression (software tiered storage anyone?), replication, cloning, etc, etc… ok, so we’ve definately got the software. What we seriously have lacked in the Sun lineup is a storage heavy box. A lot of Linux zealots gravitate toward 4U servers with lots of onboard storage such as offered by HP, but in the Sun world for the last several years we’ve been drawn more toward going as small as possible and putting our storage some place else. Now, putting your storage elsewhere is a good thing that I think we all believe in, but it sort of sucks when you want to build your own storage server using all these new nifty bits we have. That just leads you to build a Sun NAS… that is, super-glue a Sun disk array on top of a small server and rename it. Not real kool.

Thumper, of course, is the ultimate answer. Maximum density. In fact, only one other storage company can provide the sort of density that Thumper can and thats 3Par, who uses a similar storage concept of putting 4 disk on a hot-swap tray, so that your 4 drives deap and 10 trays across per shelf giving the 3Par shelf 40 disks in 4U to Thumpers density of 48 in 4U. Thumper is the highest density storage solution available! So now we’ve got massive internal capacity in a small space with a killer storage OS thats only improving every day.

Of course, most of us naturally look at this as a storage server for NFS or iSCSI but Sun really was smart in bringing GreenPlum, one of my favorite companies, up on stage. MPP Databases? This box is damned near purpose built. The data warehouse you could build out of these would be incredable.

But there is something you may not have thought about that strikes me about X4500… did you notice just how small the actual server componant is in the rear? You can remove it and hold it with a single hand! For a long time Rackable has really pushed the half-depth server market for putting double the servers in a single 4 post rack, this could change that. Or, if your like me and use 2 post Chatsworth racks, flush mountable high performance Opteron servers could be really kool. I think that the little monster in the back that drives Thumper could be just as exciting as Thumper itself.

But… while I hate to be negative, like most of you, the servicability of a top loaded unit causes me concern. I love my Sun Fire V1280’s, but they too are top-loaded and while its a beautiful design, it does make service a pita.

And so speaking of density… you won’t find it in the Sun Blade 8000 solution. Well, actually lets think. The Sun Blade 8000 Chassis, priced dirt cheap at $5,000, has room for 10 server modules (blades) in 19U. First reaction? Wow, that sucks. But wait! Stop and think about it, the modules have 4 Opteron’s each. I can’t find a Quad Opteron server thats 1U, their all 4U, which means that I can buy 10 4U boxes or 10 modules to put in a single 19U Chassis. Hmmmmmm…. okey, turns out there is some pretty damned massive density here. For me, though, Blades aren’t about density but rather servicability. I like the blade philosophy of pull and ship, buy and plug. Thats one of the reasons that the “service lights” on the IBM BladeCenter don’t impress me… I don’t want to know whats broken, I want to ship the damned thing. Servicability on the 8000 really pushes into new territory, not because of whats on the modules but because of whats not.

Thats her backside, and what a pretty backside it is. Notice that the PCIe slots are all in the rear. The IO is abstracted from the individual blade which really impresses me. In the past we’ve seen vendors like RLX push networking into another module but putting the PCI busses off-blade is really genious. Going even further to using hot-swap ExpressModules adds to my pleaure. You might recall that I was a big fan of Compact PCI and really pissed when the cPCI equiped midrange servers were tossed out… well, the future has arrived and it looks good. The SAS drives per blade are nice too. 10,000RPM SAS drives just like on the rest of the Galaxy line… don’t judge these drives by their size.

Frankly, I think far too many people are going to brush the 8000 aside without really running the numbers and seeing just want a highly dense and powerful solution this is. If you had a very large scale deployment you could easily run a datacenter with thousands of CPU’s and only a single admin because of the power this baby puts in your hands.

That brings us to the industries first midrage class high performance X86 offering with 8 Opteron sockets: Sun Fire X4600. We talked before about how these systems catapulted a Sun deployment into the top 10 of the Supercomputer Top-500 list. (Something SunFire and StarCat never delievered… although both regularly were featured lower on the list.) Clearly when you need power this is the box. It fills a very nice nitch right behind X4200 and lays a clear path for the future.

And so… in review. Thumper rules, but don’t rule out 8000 and keep your eye on fun uses for 4600. The important things to keep in mind are:

  1. Sun is an engineering company again… Long may she reign!
  2. Sun is the only company pushing the boundries of what we expect from the X86 platform
  3. Companies like Rackable suddenly don’t look so kool anymore.
  4. Sun is the only company doing all of this in a single integrated product line!
  5. Jonathan rules.

That last one is perhaps the most important. I think he’s got us pointed in the right direction with a lot more to come in the years ahead. There are still questions of course, like what will become of UltraSPARC IV+ and why hasn’t it delievered, with the currently lineup who cares about that Fujitsu partnership, and what will become of that horrible disk storage lineup in particular the crappy LSI junk in the midrange. I think its too soon to say on these things… we’ll see. But clearly Sun isn’t dying and we’re now in a position to really drive the industry again, not lag behind it.

Thanks to Sun and Bite PR for inviting me to the event. Sorry I couldn’t make it but it was super kool to be invited.