Sun Serves High End

Sun Serves High End

Henry Baltazar

Scaling up to 106 processors, including support for UltraSPARC III 1.2GHz CPUs, the Sun Fire 15K is a million-dollar server force to be reckoned with.

During an exclusive evaluation of the Sun Fire 15K at Sun, eWeek Labs found that the server, announced and made available this week, has a host of features that make it attractive for high-powered server consolidation and for companies that need raw computing power to crunch numbers and run simulations.

The Sun Fire 15K is the big brother of the Sun Fire 12K server. The Sun Fire 12K has less capacity (a maximum of 52 CPUs) but identical functionality.

These two Sun Fires are so similar, in fact, that IT administrators who purchase the 12K will be able to easily upgrade it to Sun Fire 15K functionality without bringing the system down. The base price of the Sun Fire 12K is $1,177,675. A tricked-out Sun Fire 15K costs upward of $10 million.

During on-site tests at Sun, we found the Sun Fire 15K’s management capabilities and flexibility especially impressive.

The core of the Sun Fire 15K is the Uniboard module, a removable hardware unit that stores processors and memory. Each Uniboard holds four processors and as much as 32GB of memory, together with a memory controller.

Sun’s improved dynamic reconfiguration capabilities allow Uniboards to be added and subtracted on the fly to augment the processing power and memory capacity of the server. And this is the first server we have seen that will allow administrators to perform two dynamic reconfiguration operations at the same time (for example, adding new processors while simultaneously moving processors from one domain to another).

With the SunFire 15K, administrators can also mix and match processors of different speeds. During the demo, we were able to run 900MHz and 1.2GHz processors in the same server. This is an important capability because it allows organizations to upgrade to the new processors, the fastest to date, at their own pace instead of forcing a wholesale migration.

Using the Sun Fire 15K’s domain capabilities, we could carve up the resources of the Sun Fire 15K into several dynamic system domains, all within the same box. Domains are virtual-serverlike entities that can be rebooted and upgraded individually without disrupting the rest of the server. High-end IBM servers also provide dynamic partition management capabilities, but they do not allow simultaneous reconfiguration changes.

The Sun Fire 15K supports as many as 18 domains per server, which means that administrators can use a Sun Fire 15K to consolidate the workload of 18 different servers into a single enclosure. The server’s dynamic reconfiguration feature not only allows processors to be added on the fly but also allows administrators to move processors from one domain to another without disrupting applications. We were able to test this capability during on-site tests.

Considering that the Sun Fire 15K can support as much as a terabyte of memory in a single domain, it is extremely important that data be stored as close to the processors as possible.

For example, when the CPUs feed off data within their own Uniboard, they typically experience latency of roughly 180 nanoseconds. Latency increases to as much as 440 ns when CPUs have to request data from memory modules in other Uniboards because the request needs to travel over the server interconnect.

Sun’s new Memory Placement Optimization feature ensures that data is held in the memory modules closest to the active processors, minimizing the latency hit.

Sun is working with application vendors to make the dynamic reconfiguration capability automatic. BMC Software Inc.’s Patrol management application currently has the ability to move resources according to need on the Sun Fire 10K; similar functionality is being developed by BMC for the Sun Fire 15K.

Senior Analyst Henry Baltazar can be reached at

Copyright © 2004 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in eWEEK.