Sun delivers software for slicing up servers

Sun Microsystems on Tuesday delivered a key update to its Solaris operating system that will give users a host of new mainframe-style partitioning tools on midrange servers.

Sun last year revamped its Sun Fire midrange line of servers and designed the hardware to support dynamic reconfiguration technology, which lets users make a variety of changes to servers on the fly, including altering the size of partitions and making more CPU (central processing unit) power available to a particular application. These types of tools are common on more expensive, mainframe-class servers, but Sun now claims an edge over its rivals by bringing these features down to lower end hardware, said Chris Kruell, group marketing manager for computer systems at Sun.

Although the hardware support for dynamic reconfiguration was built into the Sun Fire servers, the company needed to update Solaris, its flavor of the Unix operating system, to let users access the technology. Some problems occurred during the software testing process and delayed the release of the tools. Users of all midrange Sun Fire servers now can go to Sun's Web site and download the Solaris update free of charge to activate the dynamic reconfiguration technology.

Dynamic reconfiguration gives users a variety of tools for choosing how much CPU power, memory or I/O capacity they want to dedicate to particular applications or groups of users and the ability to alter these resources without shutting a server down.

Sun's top-of-the-line Sun Fire 6800, for example, can now be sliced up into four partitions or dynamic system domains, Kruell said. A company might run a financial database, an application server, a transaction application and a test environment on the same server. An administrator could dedicate a fixed number of processors to handle the financial database and then increase the number of CPUs on the fly if usage of that software is increasing. Similar tasks, such as adding memory or I/O bandwidth, could be done for the other applications as needed.

One user who has tested the dynamic reconfiguration technology found the ability to add and subtract resources helpful for his company, a vendor of networking hardware and software.

"Sometimes we need to validate a configuration for our adapters and the test calls for an increase in I/O bandwidth, (which means) we also need more CPU power and memory," said Marwan Zeineddine, director of San Diego-based JNI Corp.'s Systems Integration Labs. "Now we can add a CPU board and go from four to eight CPUs without shutting the server down."

JNI tests its adapters on servers from IBM Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. as well, but these vendors do not offer dynamic reconfiguration at this time, which can make the testing process more difficult and lengthy on IBM and HP hardware, Zeineddine said.

Sun also released one part of the dynamic reconfiguration tools for its high-end Sun Fire 15K system. Users will be able to adjust I/O levels on this server. Sun will deliver the software for altering CPUs and memory in a couple of months, Kruell said.

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