Sun's new big iron bends the rules

If the local RAID controller supported RAID5, this server would be nearly perfect

Virtuoso of virtualization

The x4600's plentiful processing and I/O resources make it a tremendous platform for virtualization, and sure enough, the server is on the VMware HCL (Hardware Compatibility List). I've been running VMware Infrastructure 3 on it for a week in the lab not only problem-free, but the server barely breaks a sweat while running eight two-processor Windows and Linux VMs under normal load.

It's always hard to gauge actual VM host loads, because there's so much fluctuation in the loads on the VMs themselves, but I would estimate that a maxed-out x4600 would handle 32 or more medium- to large-workload virtual servers with no complaints. For many shops, two of these servers would represent a datacenter's worth of computing power -- and be fully redundant. This makes the power consumption not even worth mentioning.

The ILOM (Integrated Lights-Out Manager) card present in the x4600 conforms to Sun's new Web UI standards, and it's quick and easy to use. The Java-based remote console application is extremely responsive and among the best in the industry. I did most of the OS builds on this server via remote console sessions with little trouble, although some OSes won't install properly from a remote-mounted ISO image. This is because the image mounts as a secondary CD-ROM device, not the primary, preventing some installers from locating the proper device.

Another note is that the onboard LSI Logic controller is not recognized by the Windows installer, requiring a driver disk in floppy format. As there is no floppy drive on the x4600, this floppy could be remotely mounted from a floppy image, or you could use a USB floppy drive; either way, it's a bit of a pain. Once installed, however, Windows Server 2003 runs like a champ. Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 Update 4 installed via Preboot Execution Environment with no problems.

Overall, the Sun Fire x4600 is a superb server with an obvious focus on virtualization, HPC, and database applications. If the local RAID controller supported RAID5, and the local disk I/O had more headroom, this server would be nearly perfect.

BOTTOM LINE: Sun Fire x4600 M2

Company:Sun Microsystems
Score:Excellent -- 8.9
Product:Sun Fire x4600 M2
Cost:US$51,995 as tested with eight AMD Opteron 8128 CPUs, 32GB RAM, two 73GB SAS drives
Platforms:Sun Solaris 10 x86, Windows Server 2003, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4, VMware Infrastructure 3, Suse Linux Enterprise Server 9 and 10
Bottom Line:Sun packed a whole lot of power into the Sun Fire x4600, which sports as many as eight AMD Opteron dual-core CPUs and 128GB of RAM. The overall server design is impeccable. The only flaws are the relatively poor performance of the local disk and the lack of RAID5 on the local SAS RAID controller. Otherwise, the x4600 is an extraordinarily well-engineered server.

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