Seven months after inking a joint development and OEM agreement with Intel, the engineers at Sun Microsystems have put out a second-generation of 'Galaxy' X64-based servers that make use of the latest quad-core Xeon processors from Intel.
The machines represent another leap in performance, density, and efficiency compared to the initial Opteron-based Galaxy machines from two years ago, and very likely preview what future 'Barcelona' Rev F Opteron Galaxy boxes will look like.
As was the case with the initial Galaxy machines and their Rev E Opteron processors two summers ago, the next generation of Galaxy boxes cram a lot of performance and features into relatively small rack-mounted containers.
Yesterday's launch with Intel, which was hosted by John Fowler, executive vice president in charge of Sun's Systems Group, and Pat Gelsinger, general manager for Intel's Digital Enterprise Group, is just the first step in what will be a more complete product line, and includes the slick design philosophy of the original Galaxy machines and their Sparc T1 brethren, the 'Niagara' servers.
Intel has been able to make a lot of hay - well, money - because its quasi-quad core 'Clovertown' Xeon 5300 chips came to market ahead of AMD's true quad-core Barcelona Opterons, and with the launch of the 'Tigerton' Xeon 7300s, Intel has a complete line of Core architecture processors that span from single-socket, dual-core chips all the way up to quad-core, four-socket servers (and larger) that can compete a lot better with AMD's Opteron family of X64 chips than the prior NetBurst Xeons could against the first revs of the Opteron chips.
The fact that Intel did the big Galaxy announcement with Sun, which has been AMD's most ardent supporter in the server space until earlier year (even as Hewlett-Packard agnostically pushes a lot more boxes), has to be something of a letdown for AMD. But, then again, it had to be a bummer for Sun and other server makers to not have had Barcelona servers ready to ship in June this year, too. Or earlier, in fact.
Sun launched two Intel-based rack servers yesterday. The first is the X4150, which is a 1U form factor rack server that has two processor sockets. The machine puts eight 2,5-inch, hot plug SAS drives or six 3,5-inch SATA disk drives, plus an optional DVD drive with the SAS versions in the front of the chassis. This is similar to the design of the original Galaxy boxes, but includes more disk drives.
The motherboard inside the X4150 supports dual-core 'Woodcrest' Xeon 5100 and quad-core Clovertown processors; Sun is supporting quad-core chips running at 1,6 GHz rated at 50 watts, at 1,86 GHz and 2,33 GHz rated at 80 watts, and 2,66 GHz chips at 120 watts.
The box has 16 DDR2 DIMM slots, giving it a 32 GB capacity with 2 GB DIMMs and a 64 GB capacity with 4 GB DIMMs, which are still a bit pricey but if you are virtualising and consolidating a lot of servers onto such a small box, you can make the economic case for more and more expensive memory.
The X4150 has four Gigabit Ethernet ports, and also has three low-profile PCI Express x8 slots for peripheral expansion. The board also has an integrated RAID 5 disk controller on the board - important for Windows and Linux customers - but Sun is obviously going to push Solaris and its ZFS file system, which provides RAID Z data protection in the guts of the file system without the need for a RAID controller. The machine includes a service processor that supports lights out management and remote control of peripherals.
Using the Woodcrest chips, which clock at 3 GHz in the X4150, a machine configured with two processors, 4 GB of main memory (using inexpensive 1 GB DIMMs), and no disk drives costs $5395.
The same machine using two 1,6 GHz Clovertowns costs $4395, while a heavier configuration with 2,66 GHz Clovertowns, 8 GB of memory, and no disks costs $6995. Solaris comes bundled on the X4150, as it does on all other Sun servers; thanks to a recent OEM agreement with Microsoft, Sun will soon be able to pre-install Windows on these and other Galaxy boxes, which have long-since been certified to run Windows.
The other new Galaxy machine is the X4450, which is a rack-mounted machine that comes in a 2U form factor; in essence, the bottom of the X4450 is the same as the X4150, with the extra 1U providing a grille to allow air to enter the box and help cool it.
This machine uses the new 'Tigerton' Xeon 7300 processor and its related 7300 chipset, and crams four processor sockets, each supporting a quad-core Tigerton chip, into that 2U space along with the eight 2,5-inch SAS or SATA drives and 32 DDR2 DIMM memory slots. Using the common 2 GB DDR2 DIMMS, the X4450 can hit 64 GB of main memory in a full configuration, and using 4 GB DIMMs, it can hit 128 GB.
The X4450 has four Gigabit Ethernet ports, six PCI Express slots (two x8 slots and four x4 slots), and presumably also has an integrated RAID 5 disk controller. The spec sheets on the X4450 are a little thin - processor speeds are not detailed, pricing information is not available, and you cannot buy it yet through Sun's online store.
General availability for the X4450 is slated for October, and an entry-level configuration with 2 GB of memory will cost $8895.
It is helpful to remember that IBM's 'Raven' PowerPC server launched a decade ago in the RS/6000 and AS/400 midrange lines had a dozen processors and a maximum of 128 GB of main memory. The Raven box was the fastest server in the midrange - and was arguably an enterprise server, even back then, and nothing, not even a mainframe, had more raw performance under a single system image. Now, with a Tigerton server - and soon a Barcelona machine - you can cram the same computing capacity into a box that used to hold a plain vanilla rack server suitable only for supporting basic infrastructure workloads.
On the software front, the X4150 and X4450 servers support Solaris 10 Update 4, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 Update 4 and 5, Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 SP1, and Windows Server 2003 (both 32-bit and 64-bit versions). VMware's ESX Server 3.0.3 hypervisor is also certified on the machines, and Fowler said that Sun is currently evaluating what to do with VMware's ESX Server 3i embedded hypervisor for servers.
Sun, like other server vendors, does not seem inclined to try to make a Galaxy variant of Intel's new 'Stoakley' platform, which uses the forthcoming 'Penryn' 45 nanometer shrink of the current Core family of Xeon DP processors for two-socket servers. For now, because server makers did not want to design around Penryn and the Stoakley platform when the next-generation 'Nehalem' chips are coming in the second half of 2008, it seems unlikely that Sun is going to make a Galaxy box based on this chip and platform combination. Fowler would not say anything directly about it at the launch.
"Without getting into specifics, we did not design these machines for just one generation," Fowler said. This is a technically accurate response, but it did not answer the question. Similarly, Fowler stepped on any suggestion that Barcelona variants of these machines are impending. But it would not be surprising to see very similar Barcelona machines from Sun in a week or two.