A surprisingly fine choice for the Windows SMB
Windows IT Pro has never—until now—reviewed a Sun Microsystems server. Lo and behold, Sun has recently expanded its OS support beyond Linux and Solaris into the Windows realm: Two of the company's x64 servers, the Sun Fire X4100 and X4200, offer support for Windows Server 2003. In addition to its newfound Windows support, Sun is also supporting the AMD Opteron dual-core processor. Let's take a look at the X4100.
Designed for customers running critical Web and application services, database applications, networking services, or virtualization applications, the X4100 offers a choice of 32- or 64-bit dual-core processing, as much as 16GB of memory, a good mix of I/O ports (including four 10/100/1000Base-T Ethernet ports, one dedicated 10/100Base-T Ethernet port, one serial port, two PCI-X 64-bit expansion slots, and three USB ports), Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) drives, and redundant fan and power supplies.
The server weighs only 41 pounds and ships with the Solaris 10 OS by default; the primary drawback for Windows administrators is the lack of an option to have Windows preinstalled. My test configuration included two dual-core AMD Opteron 2.4GHz processors, 8GB of DDR400 ECC memory, and two 73GB SAS drives. I reformatted the disk and performed a cold install of Windows 2003 R2 x64 Enterprise Edition.
An obvious benefit of the X4100 is its inclusion of Sun's Integrated Lights Out Manager (ILOM). The ILOM monitors the status and configuration of components, provides command-line and Web-based systems management interfaces, and provides remote keyboard/video/mouse (KVM)- and storage-over-IP capability through an independently powered service processor that boasts its own hardened OS. (The processor is included with the server at no additional cost.) However, the biggest ILOM benefits are its abilities to manage the system during the computer's preboot sequence or power-on self-test (POST) and to initialize peripheral (e.g., SCSI) devices.
Windows 2003 doesn't include SAS drivers, so you'll need to download them from the Web and have them available during Windows installation via floppy disk. If you don't have a floppy disk handy, ILOM can emulate a virtual floppy drive. However, in my tests, I found the process of setting up a virtual floppy disk and installing Windows a bit tricky and time-consuming. Sun needs to seriously consider shipping the box with Windows preinstalled.
In the realm of performance, the Sun Fire X4100 recently set three new x86 world records, according to a benchmark test that emulates server-side Java applications and measures performance in business operations per second and throughput. For further information about how the X4100 fared in a variety of independent benchmark tests, check out Sun's Web site (http://www.sun.com/servers/entry/x4100/benchmarks.jsp). Suffice it to say, Sun appears to have met the challenge of providing a high-performance server for the Windows community.
PROS: Available in multiple configurations to meet your computing needs and budget requirements; offers 64-bit AMD Opteron dual-core processing; versatile systems managment component included in base price