Server Snapshots: Sun Blade X8420

by Drew Robb

This 64-bit, 4-way blade from Sun Microsystems is targeted at the high end of the server market. It is available in two chassis types to maximize either I/O or processing capacity.

Sun's latest blade server, the X8420, is a 64-bit product targeted at the high end of the server market. This 4-way blade comes with a choice of two chassis types: One version is designed to maximize I/O and the other processing capacity.

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"By focusing at the high end of the blade space, Sun can break down barriers that have thus far inhibited blade adoption and leverage its long expertise in designing and manufacturing high-end systems that run the most mission-critical parts of an organization's IT infrastructure," says John Humphreys, an analyst at IDC. "The Sun Blade 8000 helps to take blades and x64 systems into areas of the IT environment historically reserved for rackmount systems."

The Sun Blade X8420 replaces the X8400. The major differences are fresh AMD Opteron processors and the latest DDR2 memory. The newer model uses Opteron 8000 series dual-core chips. It can operate in conjunction with the Sun Blade 8000 chassis or the Sun Blade 8000P chassis.

The 8000 chassis is 19 rack units in height. It is intended to be used in situations where a lot of I/O is needed and thus has the potential to provide up to 9.6 Tb per second, per chassis. It uses PCI Express interfaces, with each blade having six PCI Express interfaces.

"The 8000 chassis is a screaming I/O machine on which you can arrange unique I/O for each blade," says Lisa Robinson Schoeller, Blades 8000 product manager, Systems Group at Sun Microsystems. "It is great for enterprise applications, databases, virtualization and server consolidation."

The Sun Blade 8000P chassis, in contrast, is only 14 rack units in height. It is possible to pack 120 sockets into one rack — that's 240 cores using these dual-core Opterons — capable of more than 1.3 TFlops. When quad core appears, that amount will double. The downside, of course, is that the 8000P has fewer I/O interfaces to shorten the chassis.

"The 8000P chassis has less I/O, as it is targeted at grids which want as many cores in a rack as possible," says Schoeller. "As the shorter chassis is designed for crunching numbers, we stole some I/O in order to make it more compact."

The X8420's Opteron chips have hardware-enabled virtualization that reduces the complexity and overhead of virtualization software. This improves the security of virtual machines (VM) and the efficiency of switching from one guest O/S to another. The processor also has a direct memory connection and a faster bus than the previous version.

"The Sun Blade X8420 is the fastest blade server on the planet and holds four records on that SPEC benchmarks," says Schoeller. "It is up to 67 percent more space efficient and 43 percent more power efficient than today's rackmount servers."

Sun believes this blade can replace 4-socket Opteron-based rack servers like the Dell 6950, the HP DL585 G2 and the IBM X3755. Schoeller says when you compare an 80-core rack of the X8420 to the same amount of cores in these other systems, it takes up far less space and uses much less power. These rack servers each have individualized power and consume as much as 15,000 watts per rack. The Sun rack, in contrast, draws fewer than 9,000 watts.

How does it compare to other blades? The 4-socket models are comparable to the HP BL45P or BL 685C, and the IBM LS41. Schoeller also says that in an 80-core configuration, the Sun machine beats these other OEM blades in terms of space footprint, power draw and amount of I/O.

"We have a 100 percent modular system, with each module being externally accessible and hot pluggable — not true for the competition," she says. "HP and IBM blades also require mezzanine cards, whereas ours don't. This reduces installation and maintenance time."

The X8420 comes with up to two hard drives. If SAS is used, two 146 GB drives can be included or smaller 73 GB drives. For SATA, only 80 GB drives are available. The system can run Solaris, Linux, Microsoft Windows and VMware side by side.

"The X8420 systems offer extremely high performance in a small footprint solution that reduces power and cooling costs, effectively extending the capacity of the data center," says Schoeller. "They are designed to scale as you grow without disruption, and offer faster deployment and serviceability."

Sun's server blade modules support up to 64GB of memory. An entry-level configuration comes with a chassis, server modules (4 x Opteron 8216 CPUs and 8GB DDR2 memory), and GigE PCIe ExpressModule. A Sun Blade 8000 in this configuration starts at $18,435, while the Sun Blade 8000 P starts at $20,935.

A large configuration with chassis, 10 of the fastest server modules (4 x Opteron 8220 CPUs, 8GB DDR2 memory, 2 x 73GB SAS) and a PCIe GigE Network Express Module starts at $181,020 for a Sun Blade 8000 and $183,520 for a Sun Blade 8000 P.

"With the Sun Blade 8000, Sun is committed to providing blade products that focus on modularity and serviceability in its x64 line for the most demanding applications in customer data centers," says Humphreys. "Sun is applying this design approach across server form factors and product lines to build the best possible compute, I/O, power, storage, cooling and system management modules."

The Sun Blade X8420 Close Up

NameSun Blade X8420
VendorSun Microsystems
DimensionsHeight 838.49 mm (33.01 in.)
Width 444.5 mm (17.5 in.)
Depth 722 mm (28.43 in.)
Weight 243.13 kg (536 lb.) when fully configured, 42.64kg (94 lb.) for an empty chassis with midplane.
Processor Details4 Dual-Core AMD Opteron 8000 Series processors per Server Module: 2.4 GHz, 1 MB L2 cache; 2.6 GHz, 1 MB L2 cache; 2.8 GHz, 1 MB L2 cache
Hard DrivesUp to two SAS (73 GB or 146 GB) or SATA (80 GB).
Operating SystemsSolaris 10 Operating System, 64-bit; Red Hat Enterprise Linux Advanced Server 4.0, 32-bit/64-bit; SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 9, 64-bit; Windows Server 2003, Enterprise Edition, 32-bit/64-bit; Windows Server 2003, Standard Edition, 32-bit/64-bit; VMware ESX Server 3.0.1
Configuration Options Sample configurations:
An entry configuration with chassis, server module (4 x Opteron 8216 CPUs and 8GB DDR2 memory), and GigE PCIe ExpressModule: Sun Blade 8000: $18,435; Sun Blade 8000 P: $20,935
A large configuration with chassis, 10 of the fastest server modules (4 x Opteron 8220 CPUs, 8GB DDR2 memory, 2 x 73GB SAS), and PCIe GigE Network Express Module: Sun Blade 8000: $181,020; Sun Blade 8000 P: $183,520
AvailabilityThis server is currently available
WarrantyThree years
This article was originally published on Tuesday Feb 13th 2007
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