Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/06/28/oracle_sun_fire_server_revamp/

Oracle refreshes Sun Xeon server lineup

AMD not invited to the party

By Timothy Prickett Morgan

Posted in The Channel, 28th June 2010 21:39 GMT

As El Reg has been telling you it would, Oracle revamp its x64 servers in June and Advanced Micro Devices was not invited to the announcement party.

In fact, there wasn't an announcement party at all, just two press releases and a webcast explaining the machines — the latter of which is still not available as we go to press. Apparently one of the ways that Oracle is going to get profits out of its Sun Microsystems unit is to not spend a lot of dough hosting server, storage, and networking launch events. Or to even make phone calls to let people know there's a webcast. Or to talk about the machines with people (like hacks who work at rags like El Reg) who are keenly interested in what Oracle has engineered and how its products are differentiated from the other boxes on the market.

To make it clear to everyone that the company is not interested in selling onesies and twosies of its x64-based servers, Oracle called the new machines its "next generation Sun Fire x86 clustered systems". In the wake of Oracle's closing of the acquisition of Sun in late January, the company said that it would focus its x64 server lineup on clusters — the kind that run Oracle's databases and applications as well as parallel supercomputers. And as El Reg reported back in May, Oracle executives were telling customers that they would be discontinuing Opteron-based servers and focusing exclusively on Xeon-based machines.

This is a big turnaround from Sun's master plan of embracing Opterons and then Xeons and trying to become a volume player in the server racket. Sun did good engineering on its Sun Fire line, which kicked off with the Opterons in 2005 and were only begrudgingly extended to Xeons in 2008 when it became clear that Sun was going to need Xeons to be a volume player.

It's clear that Sun did not make the cut as an x64 server volume player, and Oracle's way of focusing and streamlining the product line is probably the right strategy for 2010 — unless the Xeon roadmap hits a big bump again, giving AMD the kind of advantage it enjoyed from 2005 through 2007.

Oracle put two new machines into the field today, both of them based on Intel's high-end, eight-core "Nehalem EX" Xeon 7500 processors. Oracle also updated three of its rack servers and one of its blade servers as well as a storage blade and a two switch modules for its Sun Blade 6000 blade server chassis.

The Sun Fire X4470 is a four-socket machine in a 3U rack chassis that is based on the Intel "Boxboro" 7500 chipset and the Xeon 7500 processors that go along with them. The machine has 64 memory slots on a total of eight memory riser cards, and supports DDR3 memory modules in 2GB, 4GB, and 8GB capacities at the moment. That yields a maximum memory of 512GB for the whole machine, but this will double to 1TB once Oracle supports 16GB memory sticks — though the company did not say when this might be.

Like Sun Fire servers have done for years, the X4470 has four Gigabit Ethernet ports and one dedicated 10/100Mb management port. The X4470 has ten PCI-Express 2.0 peripheral slots: two x16 and two x4 slots, with a mix of x4 and x8 slots making up the remainder. The machine has six 2.5-inch disk slots in the front right side of the chassis, and customers can slot in SAS disks or SATA solid-state disks. The server also supports Oracle's Flash Accelerator F20 flash module, which plugs into a PCI-Express slot.

Oracle X4470 Server

Oracle's Sun Fire X4470 server

The X4470 supports Oracle's own Solaris and Enterprise Linux operating systems and its Oracle VM variant of the Xen hypervisor. Microsoft's Windows Server, Red Hat's Enterprise Linux, and Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server are also supported on the machine, as is VMware's ESX Server hypervisor. Oracle was not specific in its spec sheets about what versions and releases of its operating systems are certified to run on the X4470 server, but if you drill down into the tech documents, Solaris 10 Update 8 (also known as 10/09), Oracle Enterprise Linux 5.5, Oracle VM 2.2.1, Windows Server 2008 SP and R2, RHEL 5.5, SLES 11, and ESX Server or ESXi 4.0 Update 1 are supported on the machine.

The Sun Fire X4800 is the eight-socket Xeon 7500 machine in a 5U rack chassis, but it looks to be a bit more sophisticated engineering-wise than the X4470 — which is what you have come to expect from a high-end Sun server (I am thinking in particular of the uniboard design borrowed from the Sparc server lineup for the original top-end X4500 server from Sun a few years back.)

The X4800 doesn't have a uniboard design, with just one socket and its memory on a single board, but it comes close, with two-socket system boards based on the Xeon 7500 processor and the Boxboro chipset — which Oracle is calling CPU modules, or CMODs — making up the basic processing element of a machine that scales from four to eight sockets.

Conceptually, the X4800 looks like it is a baby blade server tipped on its side with the SMP electronics to lash the blades together into a single system image replacing the blade backplane. But again, Oracle didn't make executives available to talk about this or the possibility that this CMOD is a preview of sorts for two-socket Xeon 7500 blades.

Oracle X4800 Server

Oracle's Sun Fire 4800 server

Each CMOD in the Sun Fire X4800 server has two Xeon 7500 processor sockets and 32 memory slots. With all four CMODs installed and using 8GB DDR3 memory sticks, the machine can cram 1TB of memory into a single system image; this will double to 2TB when Oracle supports 16 GB sticks.

Like the Sun Blade 6000 chassis, the X4800 server uses network express modules (NEMs) and PCI Express modules (EM) units to add network and peripheral connectivity to the basic server elements. The X4800 can support two NEMs, which offer four Gigabit or four 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports each, and up to eight EMs, which have a single PCI Express 2.0 x8 slot. That's not a lot of I/O expansion, but it is probably more than enough network bandwidth.

The machine has four power supplies that run along the left side of the 5U chassis and eight 2.5-inch hot plug disk slots that run across the bottom of the chassis, underneath the CMODs.

Oracle is pitching this machine as "the ideal server to refresh inefficient and outdated HP Itanium and IBM Power servers." The X4800 runs the same mix of operating systems and server virtualization hypervisors as the Sun Fire X4470.

Precise processor SKUs supported in these machines, their availability, and their prices were not available from Oracle at press time.

The Xeon 5600 Refresh

On the two-socket server front, Oracle has not just eliminated the Opteron processors from the Sun Fire lineup, but has also simplified the Sun product line a bit. The new Sun Fire X4270 M2 server is a tweaked version of the prior X4270 and X4275 machines; it's offered in two flavors: one with a dozen 3.5-inch SATA disks and another with 24 2.5-inch disks crammed into a 2U chassis.

Oracle X4270 M2 Server

Oracle's Sun Fire X4270 server, in two disk flavors

The X4270 M2 is based on Intel's current six-core Xeon 5600s and has the same memory capacity as its predecessors, at 18 memory slots and 144GB maximum using 8GB DDR3 memory. What's new with this X4270 M2 is that the I/O expansion in the box comes by way of six PCI Express 2.0 low-profile x8 slots, but two of these slots can be yanked out of the box and replaced with a dual 2.5-inch SATA disk cage so the operating system can be installed on mirrored disks in the back of the unit. That leaves the front-mounted disks available for data and applications, isolated from the OS. Customers can use SAS or SATA disks or SSDs in the front-mounted disk bays.

The X4270 M2 has four Gigabit Ethernet ports. It supports Oracle Solaris 10 Update 8, Oracle Enterprise Linux 5.4, and Oracle VM 2.2.1; Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2 can run on the box, as can SLES 10 SP3 and SLES 11, RHEL 5.4, and ESX Server and ESXi 4.0 Update 1.

The Sun Fire X4170 M2 is a refresh of Sun's original X4170 server. The 1U rack-based machine uses the same motherboard as is used in the X4270 M2 above, but only three PCI Express 2.0 slots are available and only a maximum of eight 2.5-inch disks can go into the box because of its smaller form factor. If you slap in a DVD drive, you lose two disks, just as in the prior Sun design.

Oracle X4170 M2 Server

Oracle's Sun Fire X4170 M2

The X4170 M2 uses 95 watt power supplies instead of the 130-watt supplies used in the X4270 M2. You have the standard Sun four Gigabit Ethernet ports on this box.

Oracle also said today that it had updated its entry-level cheapo X2270 with an M2 box and the Xeon 5600 processors, but El Reg readers know that Oracle actually snuck out this X2270 M2 out back in May, at the same time it put a Netra carrier-grade blade server into the field for telecom and service provider customers. The feeds and speeds of this machine did not change; Oracle just added the newer CPUs. The Sun Fire X2270 M2 is a two-socket box and tops out at 96GB of main memory in its dozen memory slots.

Sun has also updated its X6270 blade server with an M2, plunking in the Xeon 5600 processors and keeping the memory the same: 18 slots, a maximum of 144GB using 8GB DDR3 sticks.

One change with the X6270 M2 blade is that SAS-2 disks can now be used in the blade; up to four 2.5-inch SAS drives can be hot-plugged into this full-height blade that slides into the Sun Blade 6000 chassis. Oracle is also adding a storage blade that packs eight 2.5-inch SAS blades into a full-height blade, which can be lashed to the X6270 M2 blade or any other blade that supports SAS-2 links as additional local storage. It supports multipathing between the blades and the storage for redundancy and resiliency.

As with the Xeon 7500 machines, pricing on the Xeon 5600 boxes and their availability was not divulged by Oracle — the company only talks about what it wants, when it wants. It doesn't answer questions.

Finally, Oracle announced two switches as part of its Sun Fire clustered systems announcement today. The Sun Blade Virtualized Multi-Fabric 10 GE M2 network expansion module tweaks the existing module by adding a private mode that allows blades within the Sun Blade 6000 chassis to speak to each other privately. This NEM has a passthrough to 10 Gigabit Ethernet uplinks that reach out beyond the chassis, and also functions as a SAS-2 fabric extender for storage modules in the blade chassis.

The Sun Blade 6000 Ethernet Switch NEM is a new 24-port 10 Gigabit Ethernet switch that provides non-blocking Layer 2/3 switching between blades with latency as low as 300 nanoseconds and 280GB/sec of bi-directional uplink bandwidth available for the Oracle blade servers linked to it. ®