Two More Xeon-Based Galaxy Servers from Sun
Published: August 21, 2008
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
Server maker and X64 wannabee Sun Microsystems used the occasion of Intel's Developer Forum in San Francisco as the launching pad for two more Xeon-based "Galaxy" servers. The new machines do not, by the way, sport any early versions of the future "Nehalem" Xeon chips that Intel is talking up at IDF. Those chips probably won't be in servers until late 2008 or early 2009. The two new Galaxy boxes use existing dual-core Xeon 5200 and quad-core Xeon 5400 processors.
The first of the new machines is the X2250, and this is a two-socket box that Sun is pitching heavily as a node in a supercomputer cluster, according to Brian Huynh, product manager for the Galaxy server line in Sun's Systems Group. The 1U rack-mounted machine uses the "Penryn" Xeon 5200 and 5400 processors with the 1.6 GHz front side bus and also supports 800 MHz DDR2 main memory--performance features that HPC shops are demanding to boost the performance of their clusters. The server has room for two 1 TB SATA disks and also sports the 50-watt quad-core processors as an option for customers where thermals are more important than raw performance. The machines also support Penryn chips with 1.33 GHz front side buses and 667 MHz DDR2 memory for customers who do not need top-end performance. The top-end quad-core Penryn supported in the machine running at 3.2 GHz (the X5482, at 120 watts) won't be available until October, and neither will the Xeon E5472, which runs at 3 GHz. The X2250 has two Gigabit Ethernet interfaces on the motherboard and one PCI Express (x16) slot for expansion. It is a barebones machine--just the kind that HPC shops like.
In a base configuration, the X2250 comes with a single quad-core Xeon E5405 running at 2 GHz with a 1.33 GHz front side bus, 4 GB of main memory, and no disk; it costs $1,495. A beefier configuration with a single Xeon X5472 quad-core chip running at 3 GHz and with the 1.6 GHz front side bus, plus 8 GB of main memory, costs $3,395.
The other machine launched this week, the X4250, is a brother to the similar "Barcelona" Opteron machine Sun added to the line recently, the X4240. From the front, they look exactly the same, with 16 hot-plug SAS drives, a DVD drive, and a tiny fan grille in the front of a 2U rack-mounted chassis that supports up to two processor sockets. The machine only supports one dual-core Xeon processor--the X5272, running at 3.4 GHz--but supports a range of quad-core Xeons that run at between 2.33 GHz to 3.16 GHz. (The online specs for the X4250 say that it uses dual-core 5100 series and quad-core Xeon 5300 series chips, but this box actually uses the Penryn variants, which are the Xeon 5200 and 5400 chips.) The server has six PCI-Express x8 slots, and four Gigabit Ethernet ports on the board. The box has redundant fans and power supplies and has an optional RAID controller that supports RAID 1 mirroring, RAID 5 data protection (striping plus parity), as well as RAID 10 (which is mirrored RAID 5 data sets). Of course, if you want to run ZFS and Solaris 10 on the box, you don't need that RAID controller at all; the RAID Z algorithm implemented in software and running on the X64 processors does the job of a RAID controller.
The base X4250 configuration comes with a single quad-core L5420 processor running at 2.5 GHz with a 1.33 GHz front side bus, 4 GB of main memory, and no disk; it costs $3,145. (The same price as the Opteron variant of this box, by the way.) Moving up to the E5450 quad-core processor running at 3 GHz boosts the price to $3,895, and a machine with two dual-core X5260 processors running at 3.33 GHz costs $5,245. Sun has a promotional deal in place on the X4250 fully loaded with memory and disk (that's 32 GB of memory and 2.3 TB of disk) and sporting a 10 percent discount available for $10,715.
Both the X2250 and X4250 actually started shipping in late July to early release customers, according to Huynh, and are available in volume now. Like all other Galaxy boxes, these two support Sun's Solaris 10 operating system, Linuxes from Red Hat and Novell, and Microsoft's Windows.
The Xeon versions of these rack-mounted machines, Sun hopes, will help boost its Galaxy server volumes, which have not grown as fast as Sun needs them to if it is to be a powerhouse in the X64 server space. "Some customers are simply not open to an AMD machine," explains Huynh--a lesson that Sun has learned the hard way after it endorsed Opterons early and came to the Intel party late. This is one of the reasons why the Galaxy server line has been running only at an estimated $500 million to $600 million annual run rate, when it should be a lot larger given the excellence of Sun's engineering on the Galaxy products. Sun also has a much smaller partner channel than either Hewlett-Packard and IBM, who sell the bulk of the X64 boxes these two vendors put in the field. Getting these partners to add a second or third vendor is a very tricky task--and one that Sun has not had a lot of success with to date, despite the benefits of the Galaxy line compared to its X64 server competition.
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