A good choice for companies looking for maximum performance from a 1U package, the high specification of the Sun Fire X4170 makes it more than a match for similar dual-processor servers from market leaders HP and Dell. Build quality is impressive and, with support for the latest quad-core Xeon 5500 processors, it has performance to spare, plus plenty of headroom in terms of memory and internal storage.
Dual Xeon 5500 processors; up to 144GB RAM; eight disk bays; four Gigabit Ethernet ports; easy access to cooling fans; integrated management controller; robust construction.
Both processors required for full memory complement; SSD drives an expensive option.
1U rack-mount server, dual Intel Xeon L5570 2.93GHz processors, 12GB DDR-3 memory, four 10,000rpm 146GB SAS 2.5in hard disks (Seagate Savio 10K.2 ES.2), Sun StorageTek (Adaptec) RAID controller, dual power supplies (760W), four Gigabit Ethernet interfaces, three PCI Express 2.0 expansion slots, Integrated Lights Out Management controller.
If you thought that Sun Microsystems, now part of Oracle, sold only high-end servers based on its own UltraSPARC processor, then think again. The company also has an impressive range of AMD- and Intel-based products, including the Sun Fire X4170, an industry standard 1U server designed to woo buyers away from market leaders HP and Dell.
The most obvious comparisons here are with HP's ProLiant DL360 G6 and Dell's PowerEdge R610, which between them dominate the 1U market. This is not just because it's a 1U solution, but because it's a dual-processor server capable of accommodating the same range of dual-core and quad-core Xeon 5500 Nehalem chips.
Ours came with a pair of 2.93GHz quad-core Xeon X5570 processors which, despite their low power requirements of 95W, are well up the Xeon scale in terms of processing power. The X5570 also supports fast 1,333MHz memory, the review system shipping with 12GB using 2GB DIMMs.
There are 18 DIMM slots in total, capable of accommodating an impressive 144GB if needed. This has yet to become a commonplace, however, as the 8GB modules required are far from cheap. Indeed, even if you were to buy the RAM from a third party, you could more than double the price of the server as a whole.
Still, that's yet another thing in common with the HP and Dell alternatives, as is the need for both processors to be installed in order to make use of all the DIMM slots simply because the memory controllers are built into the Xeon processors.
Networking is well looked after, with a pair of Broadcom controllers on the X4170 motherboard linked to four Gigabit Ethernet ports at the rear of the chassis, two more than on the HP server. Also at the back are two redundant power supplies, while at the sharp end the designers have managed to shoehorn in eight 2.5in drive bays. The Dell R610, by comparison, can manage only six. HP's DL360 G6 can be ordered with eight, but the end result lacks room for a DVD drive which can still be squeezed into the Sun Fire chassis.
The usual SATA or SAS disks can be specified, the review system shipping with four 146GB SAS drives configured as two mirrored volumes using a Sun-branded Adaptec RAID controller in one of three PCIe expansion slots. Solid state disks can also be specified but, as with the other vendors, you'll need deep pockets. The largest available from Oracle, a 32GB SSD, is shown at £960 + VAT.
Despite the small form factor, Sun (sorry, Oracle) has managed to pack a lot into the X4170 and added a lot of nice touches. We particularly liked the lift up flap enabling the fans to be swapped out without having to open up the chassis. This is perhaps just as well given the seven hot-swap fan units underneath, each containing two sets of blades. As a result the server sounds a bit like a Concorde when powered up, but soon settles down and proved no noisier than competing products in use.
We also liked the clear servicing information printed on the lift-off lid, and the colour coding of the hot-swap components. No special tools are required, and access is excellent with minimal cabling to get in the way. In fact the only issue we had with the design was with the tiny on/off button although, in the real world, that's unlikely to put buyers off.
Sun hasn't followed Dell down the integrated lifecycle controller route, but then neither has HP and you do get a very nice Integrated Lights Out Management controller, complete with dedicated Fast Ethernet port. Moreover, this comes with support for web-based remote control, virtual media and remote power cycling as standard, without the need to buy anything else. Sun also has its own management platform - xVM Ops Center - to remotely manage both its industry standard and UltraSPARC based servers, adding tools to provision bare metal systems and manage cross-platform patching, for example.
Aimed at companies looking for high density computing power, customers will inevitably want to use the X4170 for virtualisation. As such there's support for an embedded hypervisor using either an internal USB or compact Flash interface. These can be used to boot a variety of hypervisors, including Microsoft Hyper-V. Likewise there's full certification for all the leading operating systems, ours shipping with Windows Server 2008, although you can of course opt for Solaris, Red Hat or SUSE Linux.
It may not be a natural first choice, but the Sun Fire X4170 certainly packs a lot of processing power, redundancy and storage into a well built 1U chassis, and at a competitive price. A high level of support can also be expected, and the market leaders should keep a close eye on what Oracle does next.