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Volume 1, Number 26 -- July 27, 2004

Sun Debuts Opteron Servers and Workstations for Linux, Unix

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

Sun Microsystems yesterday took another step to flesh out its Opteron server line and also launched its expected line of Opteron workstations. The new Sun Fire V40z earns the distinction of being Sun's first officially certified Windows server; it obviously supports Solaris and Linux--which will be the main operating systems on the machines. Sun also announced special promotional pricing on its existing Sun Fire V20z two-way Opteron server to take a jab at the established X86 vendors.

The Sun Fire V40z server is a four-way, rack-mounted server that will have an initial list price of $8,495. The machine will also be available through a special one-week special eBay auction on Sun will have benchmark tests that demonstrate that its four-way V40z server can best a comparable server using Intel's Xeon MP processors by 76 percent on the SPECweb99_SSL benchmark at a 40 percent lower price.

The V40z, like all other four-way Opteron servers, is based on the Opteron 800 series processors--specifically 1.8 GHz Opteron 844s, 2.2 GHz Opteron 848s, and 2.4 GHz Opteron 850s--uses Advanced Micro Devices' 8000 series chipset, and can support up to 32 GB of main memory and has three 3.2 GB/sec HyperTransport links per processor. The V40z has an integrated RAID 1 Ultra320 SCSI controllers (no base RAID 5, oddly enough) and has seven PCI-X slots and six hot-swap drive bays. It has two Gigabit Ethernet ports.

Solaris 9 and the Software Express beta of the Solaris 10 are supported on the V40z box, as is Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3 and Novell's SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 8 and (specifically for the HPC customers) SuSE Linux 9 Professional. Solaris 8 runs in 32-bit mode, while the other four platforms can run in 64-bit mode. Sun itself is selling all of those operating systems on the V40z. Sun has certified Windows 2000 and Windows Server 2003 on the box, but customers have to supply their own Windows software for the V40z and Sun does not provide support for the software.

The V40z comes in four different configurations. The small configuration comes with two 1.8 GHz Opteron 844 processors, 2 GB of main memory, and a single 73 GB disk drive and costs $8,495. A medium configuration comes with two 2.2 GHz Opteron 848 processors, 4 GB of memory, and single 73 GB disk for $12,495. The large V40z configuration comes with four of the Opteron 848 processors, 8 GB of memory, and two 73 GB disks for $22,995. The extra large configuration has four 2.4 GHz Opteron 250, 8 GB of memory, and two disks for $27,995.

Sun announced two Opteron workstations yesterday, the Sun Java Workstation W1100z and the Sun Java Workstation W2100z. Both are similarly based on Opteron processors, have Nvidia graphics subsystems, and can support Solaris 9 for X86 or Linux.

The W1100z is a uniprocessor machine that uses a 100 series Opteron processor (from Opteron 144s running at 1.8 GHz to Opteron 150s running at 2.4 GHz). The machine supports up to 8 GB of main memory, an integrated Gigabit Ethernet port, space for two 80 GB UltraATA disks, and five PCI-X slots. This 3D workstation comes with Nvidia Quadro FX500 or NVS280 3D graphics cards, and can optionally support the Quadro FX3000 and FX1100 graphics cards. The machine runs Solaris 9 for X86 or Red Hat Linux WS workstation edition (but oddly enough, not Novell's new SuSE 9 Professional). The small configuration of the W1100z comes with a 1.8 GHz Opteron 144, 512 MB of main memory, a single 80 GB disk, and the Quadro NVS280 graphics card; it costs $1,995 with Solaris 9 preconfigured. The large configuration of this uniprocessor workstation comes with a 2.4 GHz Opteron 150, 1 GB of main memory, an 80 GB disk, and costs $3,195 running Solaris 9. Red Hat Linux costs extra.

The W2100z workstation is a very similar machine, except that the main memory is doubled to a maximum of 16 GB, it uses SCSI disks, and it sports up to two Opteron 200 series processors. A small configuration of the W2100z workstation has two Opteron 246 processors (running at 2 GHz), 2 GB of main memory, a single 73 GB SCSI disk, and a Quadro NVS280 graphics card; it costs $4,695. The large configuration comes with two Opteron 250s running at 2.4 GHz, 4 GB of main memory, 73 GB of disk, and Quadro FX3000 graphics. This machine costs $8,695.

Both Opteron workstations come with the Java Desktop System preinstalled--that's the Java part of the workstation's name. But don't be fooled. These will be real Unix workstations, and Sun will run a lot of benchmarks on them to prove their mettle in the technical workstation market.

On the Sun Fire V20z front, Sun is announcing a special bundle called the Enterprise Essentials Promotion, which has two different hardware configurations and licenses for services and support all bundled together. Sun is offering a three-year license to Solaris 9 for these boxes (which still is running in 32-bit mode on the Opterons) plus Sun Silver Spectrum support for $492 per year. Sun is offering an entry-level machine under the Enterprise Essentials promotion that includes a V20z with a single 1.8 GHz Opteron 244 processor, 512 MB of main memory, and a 73 GB disk for $1,495. A premium configuration with two Opteron 250 processors, 1 GB of main memory, and 73 GB of disk will sell for $4,995. The software and support is presumably added on top of this. Sun says that the combination of this hardware, software, and support pricing makes a Sun V20z box 40 percent less expensive than a Dell PowerEdge box running Red Hat Linux.

Incidentally, Sun is also offering the 2.4 GHz Opteron 250 in regular Sun Fire V20z servers, with a starting price of $2,795 for a base box with one CPU. A V20z machine with a single 2.2GHz Opteron 248 will have its price lowered by 33 percent to a mere $995.

John Fowler, executive vice president for Sun's Network Systems Group (which handles X86 and low-end Sparc servers), said yesterday that all of the V40z is being made by the Newisys unit of Sanmina-SCI. The existing V20z server is also brought in on a OEM basis from Newisys, which as you will remember was the first server company to step up to the plate and create two-way and four-way Opteron servers. Fowler's admission that these two servers are coming in as an OEM product from Newisys confirms what we had expected all along. These things are no big deal--and when vendors try to hide such information, they make it a big deal.

Fowler also confirmed that Sun was working on an eight-way Opteron server, presumably the Sun Fire V80z, that will be delivered during Sun's fiscal 2005 (which ends in June 2005). The Opteron 8000 series chipsets already support the gluing of four two-way cell boards into an eight-way machine, so you might be thinking, what is Sun taking so long? Well, for one thing, Andy Bechtolsheim, who was creating his own line of Opteron servers before he came back to Sun (a company he helped found), is creating the design for Sun's eight-way box. Newisys, and indeed no other server maker, has created an eight-way box using Opteron processors, and Sun and Hewlett-Packard are the only tier-one server players to even endorse four-way Opteron machines. As for what the V80z might look like, Fowler could not say. "The elves are very busy back at the workshop," he said. As for why it would take Sun perhaps until next spring to deliver an eight-way Opteron box, Fowler said that the engineering challenges of coping with thermal issues as you try to condense the server design increase exponentially as you add processors to a box. Sun also does six to nine months of accelerated "shake and bake" testing on all of its servers so it can predict how they will behave in the field over the course of many years. There is no easy way to shorten that time.

Fowler said that the V40z did not have a subscription price alternative to outright acquisition right out of the chute because Sun is still experimenting with how to package these together. But he did say that very soon, all of Sun's entry and midrange servers would have such pricing alternatives. Right now, Sun is selling the V20z as part of a subscription to Sun's developer network. Coders who sign a three year contract to the network, where they predominantly learn how to code C and Java on Unix, get the V20z for free.

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Editor: Timothy Prickett Morgan
Managing Editor: Shannon Pastore
Contributing Editors: Dan Burger, Joe Hertvik, Kevin Vandever,
Shannon O'Donnell, Victor Rozek, Hesh Wiener, Alex Woodie
Publisher and Advertising Director: Jenny Thomas
Advertising Sales Representative: Kim Reed
Contact the Editors: To contact anyone on the IT Jungle Team
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