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Server Snapshots: Sun Netra T5220

By Drew Robb (Send Email)
Posted Jun 5, 2008


Drew Robb
Sun characterizes the Sun SPARC Enterprise T5220 as the fastest server designed for virtualization. It provides 64 virtual systems on one box, or about 1,250 secure virtual domains per rack. It also does well on performance per watt measurements via its 64-thread UltraSPARC T2 processor. Sun describes its SPARC Enterprise T5220 as the fastest server designed for virtualization. It's carrier-grade sibling, the Sun Netra T5220, is that and more.

The Sun Netra T5220 also fulfills the above criteria. But as part of Sun's Netra carrier-grade line, this server has greater network throughput in a NEBS-certified 2U package (NEBS stands for Network Equipment Building Systems, a standard used heavily in the telecommunications and networking fields).

"Carrier grade does not mean the Netra T5220 is only dedicated to telco customers," said Mark Butler, Netra systems product line director at Sun Microsystems (Santa Clara, Calif.), "Our server design and architecture meets telco requirements, like 20-inches depth, PCI-X cards legacy support and NEBS compliance, but it is open to other markets."

He noted that the Netra T5220 is also popular among government and military customers, as well as in other market segments. Its capabilities make it versatile, and it has been deployed as a media gateway controller for embedded OEM applications (such as industrial process control, semiconductor test equipment, and network imaging systems), application and Web servers, network proxy server, base station controllers, DNS services, firewalls for virtual private network/IP security (VPN/IPSEC), IP traffic management systems, security systems and streaming media. It is also used for content caching and in content distribution networks.

"Target markets for Sun's carrier grade Netra line are those that need the additional reliability, ability to survive in harsh environments or need a longer, more stable product life," said Butler. "The Netra T5220 server delivers scalability, energy efficiency and reliability for a variety of demanding applications."

All of this is built on the foundation of the UltraSPARC T2 chip. This processor brings together several elements typically associated with specific chips — virtualization, processing power, networking, security, floating point units and accelerated memory access. According to Butler, integrating these elements on a single piece of silicon (Sun calls this "System on a Chip") reduces cost and increases performance, reliability and energy efficiency. At the same time, it can also function well as a general-purpose processor.

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Using Sun's CoolThreads chip multithreading (CMT) technology, the UltraSPARC T2 processor require less than two watts per thread of power — about one-tenth to one-thirtieth the power consumption of competitive offerings, said Butler.

"The UltraSPARC T2 processor sets the gold standard for green computing and efficiency, combining the industry's lowest power consumption with double the cores, 16 times the threads, 4 times the throughput, with on-chip network and security functionality," he said. "The UltraSPARC T2 processor has the potential to save systems builders and their end users millions of dollars on skyrocketing power, cooling and space expense."

UltraSPARC Now, Intel Later

Although Sun is keen to flaunt the glories of its SPARC processors, it has opened the door to x86 chips in upcoming models of the Sun Netra T5220 and other servers with the "T" designation. Just don't expect to see any on the market until Sun has well and truly exploited its sales advantage using its own CoolThreads processors.

"The Intel models will be available in the Q1 FY09. We will have both the entry server, 2U rack server and the 4U rack server," said Butler.

Sun said this is all about choice. Not all customers, for example, have highly threaded applications. And Butler admits that the UltraSPARC T2's jack-of-all-trades architecture may not be ideal in certain scenarios.

"For those sets of customers that have single-threaded applications, the x64 platforms sometimes achieve better performance," he said.

Jimmy Huang, product line marketing manager for CoolThreads Servers at Sun gives another perspective — profits. Since Sun launched its Intel-based x64 line several years back, it has been pleasantly surprised by the bottom-line gains.

"We continue to see strong demand, quarter-over-quarter, for our x86 4-socket and above systems," said Huang. "Growth from Q2FY08 to Q3FY08 was just under 40 percent."

He said he firmly expects this trend to continue. In fact, Sun has taken yet another step in what could be the long road out of in-house chip manufacturing with a recent announcement of a 4-socket AMD-based server (the Sun Fire X4440), which begun shipping this quarter.

But given its superiority in several spheres, the UltraSPARC T2, or other SPARC-based antecedents are unlikely to disappear — at least any time soon. Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata (Nashua, N.H.), sees the UltraSPARC T2 (which he calls by its former code-name Niagara) as bucking the prevailing winds of the marketplace — but doing so fairly successfully.

"For utility applications and network-facing systems, much of the IT universe has long-since adopted distributed x86 servers as their platforms of choice — especially as you move out of mission-critical data center back ends," said Haff. "That's the big challenge faced by Sun with the Niagara line (and indeed anyone selling anything other than scale-out x86). But these are solid systems that can handle big loads with aplomb."

Whatever the future holds, expect more Netra models to be made available with a choice of processors. As well as the Netra T5220, the Netra X4250 server will have Intel inside. This carrier-grade system can expand up to a 8-way configuration within a 2U-footprint. It will offer a choice of multiple operating systems, 16 memory slots, 4 internal disk drives, and 6 PCI slots.

"Sun's Netra server line is the most comprehensive portfolio of carrier-grade servers, offering customers a choice of architectures (blades or racks), a choice of processor technology (SPARC, AMD or Intel) and a choice of operating systems (Solaris, Linux and Windows)," said Butler.

Ongoing Trends

Sun's Huang sees the Netra T5220 and other CoolThreads models as being a response to ongoing marketplace trends.

"Infrastructure load is growing on average by 20 percent each year but can double or triple every few months with the launch of a major new service," said Huang. "Organizations around the world are struggling to build IT infrastructure for Web, enterprise, database and technical applications, to quickly and securely support this demand from millions of new users and transactions with absolute efficiency and predictability."

At the same time, he said, these organizations must exploit the benefits of virtualizing their data centers to consolidate infrastructure, and reduce power and space consumption, while driving up agility, asset utilization and service levels. Growing energy consumption, too, must be tackled to reduce costs and carbon footprint in an eco-conscious world where per-unit energy costs are increasing. The Sun Netra 5220 is aimed squarely at addressing many of these issues.

The Sun Netra 5220 Close Up

Name Netra 5220 The Netra 5220
Source: Sun Microsystems
Vendor Sun Microsystems
Platform RISC
Dimensions 2U
Processor Details 4-, 6- and 8-core 1.2-GHz UltraSPARC T2 processors, up to 64 processing threads, 4 MB integrated L2 cache per processor
Hard Drives Up to four internal 146GB SAS drives (2.5-in.)
Operating Systems Solaris 10
Configuration Options For $11,295: One quad-core UltraSPARC T2 processor (1.2 GHz), 4GB RAM and a 146GB SAS disk
For $22,895: One 8-core UltraSPARC T2 (1.2 GHz), 8GB RAM and 292 GB (2x146) SAS disks
For $24,495: One 8-core UltraSPARC T2 (1.2 GHz), 32GB RAM and 582 GB (4x146) SAS disks
Availability Now available; Intel-based models coming early next year
Warranty 1 year

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