Server Snapshots: SPARC Enterprise M4000, M5000 Servers

By Drew Robb (Send Email)
Posted Jun 15, 2007


It's not often competing hardware vendors get together to produce servers. Yet, that's exactly what Fujitsu and Sun have done with the SPARC Enterprise server line. The machines are designed for high reliability, ease of management and vertical scalability. The basic idea is to combine the benefits of traditional mainframes within the lower-cost framework of Unix systems.

If the adage, "two heads are better than one" applies to server development, the jointly built Sun-Fujitsu M4000 and M5000 midrange servers from the SPARC Enterprise server line are sure to turn heads. The systems seek to bring the benefits of traditional mainframes to lower-cost Unix boxes.

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This article will look at two servers from this line: the M4000 and M5000. A later server snapshot will explore the higher-end M8000 and M9000.

"These servers are the fruits of an engineering collaboration that has extended for over 20 years with Fujitsu," says John Fowler, executive vice president of the Systems Group at Sun Microsystems. "SPARC Enterprise servers leverage each others' strengths: Fujitsu's mainframe heritage of reliability and Sun's leading enterprise OS and SPARC processors."

SPARC Enterprise servers are a product of what Fujitsu calls its TRIOLE strategy. This is based on three areas: integration, virtualization and automation. Fujitsu has applied these core concepts to develop functional building blocks to speed the installation of high reliability platforms.

"The new SPARC Enterprise servers are designed to solve the most complex real-world challenges of our customers through flexible, highly reliable hardware and software that leverages the latest integration, virtualization and automation technologies," said Richard McCormack, senior vice president of marketing at Fujitsu Computer Systems. "It offers high processing density in a very small footprint."

SPARC Enterprise M4000

The M4000 offers symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) with up to four dual-core processors, memory subsystems as large as 128 GB, high-throughput I/O architectures and the Sun Solaris 10 operating system with its associated virtualization technologies. These SPARC64 VI CPUs (up to 8 cores at two threads per core) run at 2.15 GHz and their multi-threading capabilities minimize CPU wait time while increasing utilization. Level2 cache has been increased to a maximum of 6 MB from the 4GB offered under SPARC V. The system bus has also been enhanced to cope with dual-core chips. The maximum system bandwidth is 32 GB/s

According to McCormack, this represents a new server line for Fujitsu. The company previously had three lines — PrimePower, Primergy and PrimeQuest. The SPARC Enterprise server adds a fourth line to the product portfolio.

"Being a new architecture, SPARC Enterprise servers support only Solaris 10," he said. "If you need legacy Solaris, you should use PrimePower, as it supports Solaris 8, 9 and 10.

McCormack classifies the 6U M4000 as a midrange system with aggressive RAS features different from those offered by any other vendor. Case in point, the Instruction Level Retry feature is unique to SPARC64 VI CPUs. As a 90-nanometer process is used in chip production, this smaller form factor is susceptible to interruptions from hit by tiny particles that didn't exert much of an influence on larger form factors. The chip has built-in code that prevents such interruptions.

The M4000 provides up to 128 GB of memory capacity. Pricing starts at $54,000.

SPARC Enterprise M5000

The M5000 is similar in many ways to the M4000, only larger. It has a maximum memory capacity of 256 GB, up to 8 dual-core chips and system bandwidth that tops out at 64 GB/s. It is a larger rack-based model — 10U — compared to the 6U M4000. The M5000 pricing starts at $59,000.

According to McCormack, the customer and application will determine whether the M4000, M5000 or the higher-end M8000 and M9000 is appropriate. Each, for example, is touted as being a good platform for server consolidation, ERP, CRM, OLTP, batch processing, database serving and decision support. The M4000 and M5000, however, are preferred for data marts, Web services, system/network management, application development and scientific engineering, whereas their larger siblings are recommended for data warehouses, application serving and compute-intensive scientific processing.

Whether you buy the M4000 or M5000 from Sun or Fujitsu, you get the same exact machine. There is no secret sauce added by either vendor to gain ascendancy for its particular model.

"A midsize organization or department might run ERP on an M4000 and a Fortune 500 company might run ERP on an M9000," says McCormack. "The RAS technology is the same on all machines. And for some applications, it might be better to set up a cluster of M4000s or 5000s rather than have a single large M9000 system with 64 processors."

To his mind, the sweet spot of the M4000 and M5000 is OLTP. He believes the fast bus and processing power are more than enough to solve most business computing problems. It is in the transaction processing and database processing arenas, he says, that these servers excel.

On the competitive side, these SPARC Enterprise servers compete directly against HP-UX-based systems and IBM System P servers running AIX. But they also compete with Windows and Linux solutions within the Fujitsu portfolio. And surprise, surprise, they might go up against the very same servers — Sun's M4000 and M5000 — on some bids.

It is important to note that whether you buy the M4000 or M5000 from Sun or Fujitsu, you get the same exact machine. There is no secret sauce added by either vendor to gain ascendancy for its particular model. But McCormack notes that these servers would typically be part of a larger order. It's the packaging and combined pricing of servers, client systems and services that might differentiate Sun from Fujitsu, or vice versa.

Virtual Containers

Last but not least in the catalog of attributes of the M4000 and M5000 is virtualization. The M4000 offers up to two Dynamic Domains, while the M5000 offer four, each of which can support thousands of Solaris Containers (aka virtual servers).

"Virtualization lets you break these machines into many chunks," says McCormack. "You can electrically isolate the boards and CPUs so that even a fatal error does not bring down the whole server. When you run a large number of Solaris Containers the overhead is very low due to Sun's work in that area."

SPARC Enterprise M4000 and M5000 Servers Close Up

Name
M4000
M5000
The M5000
Vendor Sun and Fujitsu Sun and Fujitsu
Platform RISC RISC
Dimensions 6U server, 17.3 x 31.9 x 10.4 inches, 185 pounds 10U server, 17.3 x 31.9 x 17.2 inches, 274 pounds
Processor Details Up to 4 dual-core SPARC64 VI processors for a total of 8 cores (2.15 GHz.) and with two threads per core Up to 8 dual-core SPARC64 VI processors for a total of 16 cores (2.15 GHz.) and with two threads per core
Hard Drives Minimum/maximum capacity is 2 x 73 GB SAS drives Minimum/maximum capacity is 2 x 73 GB SAS drives
Operating Systems Solaris 10 update 3 Solaris 10 update 3
Configuration Options 2 x 2.1 GHz SPARC64 VI processors on one board, 16 GB RAM for $54,000
4 x 2.1 GHz SPARC64 VI processors on two boards, 32 GB RAM for $99,000
2 x 2.1 GHz SPARC64 VI processors on one board, 16 GB RAM for $59,000
8 x 2.1 GHz SPARC64 VI processors on four boards, 32 GB RAM for $154,000
Availability Shipping in late June Shipping in late June
Warranty 3 years 3 years

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