IBM-free Sun unwraps Nehalem EP servers
Let's not talk about that Bigger Indigo thing
Sun Microsystems is today finally expected to unwrap two blades, four racks, and a tower workstation based on Intel's quad-core Nehalem EP Xeon 5500 processors.
The launch follows a delay that pushed out this next generation of Galaxy servers by two weeks - probably caused by the hubbub surrounding that much discussed, planned, then canceled IBM acquisition.
The Sun x64 server launch rounds out the top four server makers in the world, who account for 85 per cent of worldwide revenues across all server architectures. We already covered the Nehalem EP servers from Hewlett-Packard (here ), Dell (there ), and IBM (right here ) in detail, as well as the chip launch itself  two weeks ago.
Sun's two blade servers, the X6270 and X6275, and a new Ultra 27 workstation are available starting today. The rack servers - the X2270, X4170, X4270, and X4275 - are expected to be available by April 30, according to Dimitrios Dovas, director of product management at Sun's Systems Group. All of the machines are based on Intel's Tylersburg Xeon 5520 chipset and use custom motherboards designed by Sun.
Collectively, the servers are being referred to as "open network systems," which is akin to the storage servers code-named Amber Road and being based on x64 boxes, lots of disks, Solaris 10 and ZFS being called "unified storage systems". The open part in the server's name refers to the fact, presumably, that they run Solaris, Windows, or Linux, or virtualization environments that can support any mix of them at the same time.
The X6270 is a two-socket blade that fits into the Sun Blade 6048 chassis (which holds a dozen blades per shelf and 48 per rack) and the Sun Blade 6000 chassis (a 10U box that can hold ten blades), while the more innovative X6275 crams two whole two-socket servers side-by-side onto a single blade. We told you about the X6275 back in November , when Sun was showing it off at the SC08 supercomputing show.
There are some big differences between the two blades. The X6270 supports 60 watt, 80 watt, and 90 watt Xeon parts (but not the fastest 130 watt part), and has 18 DDR3 memory slots for a maximum capacity of 144GB of main memory using 8GB modules. Of course, as is the case with other vendors, these 8GB modules are not generally available yet, so 4GB DIMMs and 72GB of maximum memory is what Sun can sell you today.
The X6270 blade has room for four 2.5-inch SAS or SATA drives, and using an outboard RAID expansion module that tucks into the 6000 and 6048 chasses, the SAS drives can be setup as a RAID array. The blade has four PCI-Express 2.0 x8 slots, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, and four SAS ports. The blade also has an optional 16GB CompactFlash memory module, which Dovas says will eventually be added to other Galaxy servers. This blade is aimed at commercial customers for the most part.
The X6275 blade is being pushed predominantly to high-performance computing customers as part of Sun's Constellation InfiniBand cluster. Each half of the X6275 blade has 12 memory slots, for a maximum capacity of 96GB using 8GB DIMMs, plus two PCI-Express x8 slots, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, and two quad data rate (40Gb/sec) InfiniBand ports.
The blade also includes one or two on-board flash modules, each with a 24GB capacity, that Sun is getting from Intel. These modules do not appear to be the Open Flash modules that Sun was showing off in early March  that it co-designed with Samsung and is proposing as a standard. It wasn't clear at press time exactly what Intel SSD was being used.
Both blade servers support Solaris 10 and OpenSolaris, and obviously benefit from the tweaks  Sun has made to support the features that have been added with the Nehalems, which Sun did talk about on Nehalem Day two weeks ago. Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 and 5, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10, and Windows Server 2003 and 2008 are supported on these blades. The X6270 has been certified to run VMware's ESX Server 3.5 hypervisors as well. Pricing on the blades was not available at press time, which is odd considering that they have both been shipping to customers since March.
While Sun is excited about blades, as all the key server makers seem to be, it still does most of its volumes in rack servers. All of the four rack machines announced today by Sun are two-socket boxes, which differ from each other in terms of main memory and peripheral expansion. All of the rack machines are expected to get the flash modules available on the X6275 blade "in the near future".
They can all be equipped with the full range of Xeon 5500 processors, they support the same operating systems as the X6270 blade - the basic Linux, Solaris, and Windows SKUs you would think are necessary - and they all come with Sun's Integrated Lights Out Manager service processors.
The X2270 rack server comes in a 1U form factor and has a dozen memory slots (maxxing out at 96 GB, again using 8GB DIMMs). The chassis has room for four 3.5-inch SATA drives, and Sun is also peddling Intel's 32GB flash-based SSD as alternatives in the box for customers who want to boost I/O performance, lower heat levels, or both. Sun added these SSD modules to its existing Galaxy and Niagara Sparc T series servers back in March . The X2270 has only one peripheral slot, a PCI-Express 2.0 x16 slot, and comes with two Gigabit Ethernet ports. A base X2270 will cost $1,488.
The X4170 is a 1U box, but it shifts to 2.5-inch SAS or SATA drives, of which it can cram eight into the front of the chassis and still have room for a DVD drive. The X4170 also has 18 DDR3 slots, for a max of 144 GB of memory, plus three PCI-Express 2.0 slots - one x16 and two x8 - and a single CompactFlash slot. Customers can add SSDs if they want, too. A base X4170 will cost $2,845.
The X4270 moves up to a 2U chassis that can support up to 16 2.5-inch SAS or SATA disks and boosts networking to four Gigabit Ethernet ports and peripheral expansion to six PCI-Express slots. All are x8 slots, which seems odd. You'd think there would be at least one x16. The base X4270 will sell for $3,445.
The X4275 is basically the same box as the X4270, but it comes with a dozen 3.5-inch SAS or SATA drives, which max out at 12 TB of capacity and which are aimed at media streaming applications where capacity matters. The X4275 has an entry price of $3,645.
The Ultra 27 workstation is a single-socket box using the 130-watt Xeon 3500 series processors. It has six DDR3 memory slots, and is currently only shipping using 2GB DIMMs. It can be equipped with an entry nVidia Quadro FX 380 graphics card, a midrange FX 3800 card, or a high-end FX 5800 card. This workstation has three PCI-Express 2.0 slots (two x16 and one x8) two PCI-Express 1.0 slots (one x8 and one x1), and a legacy PCI slot. It has room for four 3.5-inch SAS or SATA disks, and is certified to run Solaris 10, RHEL 5, Windows Sever 2008, or Windows Vista.
Sun did not announce a single-socket server based on the Xeon 3500 variant of the Nehalem EP chip, but it certainly could. ®