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Sun shows off mainframe chasing 106 chip StarCat

Swinging hot swapping

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Sun saved a small surprise for everyone at the launch of its big fat mainframe-chasing StarCat unix server in New York.

It unveiled the box, also known as the SunFire 15000, with 106 900MHz UltraSPARC III copper processors. All the pre-launch speculation suggested a 72 processor box (apart from The Register which said there'd be 106 chips in it last week) and Sun had been happy not to promise more than 72.

It had managed to get its benchmarks looking good with 72 processors so saw little point in over-egging their sales story. (The benchmark angle is interesting because historically Sun hasn't bothered with them because UltraSPARC IIs were slower than the competition.)

The max StarCat spec, when it's stuffed to the gills, looks like this: 106 CPUs; 576GB of memory; 250TB of storage; and 72 PCI I/O slots. You're not looking at much change on $5-$7 million for this. It must be noted that you can't use all your I/O slots if you want 106 CPUs; 72 processors is the most you can have without eating into your slot allowance.

The server also gives you 18 distinct I/O domains or CPU memory domains.

The base model StarCat features 16 900 MHz copper CPUs, 16GB of memory, and all for $1,413,840.

Pre-launch discussion on the SunFire 150000 suggested the 72-way box would actually be three SunFire 6800s, which are 24-way boxes, glued together. Not true, "in no way, shape, or form," according to Clark Masters, VP of the enterprise systems group. StarFire and mid-range teams had come together to do a difficult job on the server, he said.

Sun was most proud of the StarCat's hot swapping ability and the fact that the memory/CPU boards can be stuck in every SunFire box from a $7,995 2 CPU SunFire 280R right up to the SunFire 15000. The hot-swapping ability was demonstrated at the New York launch with CPU/memory boards, PCI cards, system controllers etc. being pulled out while the box was still running in comparison to an IBM P680 which the demonstrators made fun of, because it was hard to get at its components let alone switch them while it was running.

The benchmarks Sun came up with were that a 72-way SunFire 15000 outperformed a 1GHz 128-way IBM system by 23 per cent on the "large FL5L1 dataset, using the FLUENT app"; and the same Sun box scored 324,542 on the SPECjbb2000 benchmark, 2.5 times ahead of IBM's best published results. We're sure IBM will win everything with its forthcoming Regatta benchmarks.

The E10K, which the StarCat supersedes, will be phased out over the next 18 months. ®

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