Exploring Galaxy, the new center of Sun's universe
Look past the preproduction glitches, and Sun's new dual-core server looks promisingFollow @infoworld
In response to the market’s dual-core mania, Sun is releasing its new Opteron-powered Galaxy line of rack-mount dual-core servers, intended to augment its Sun Fire line of x86-based machines. The question is: Given Sun Fire’s somewhat lackluster popularity record, will the Galaxy fare any better among customers looking to stick with Sun?
We did our best to answer this puzzler by giving a preproduction Galaxy 1 -- graciously provided by Sun -- a test drive. Unfortunately, the Galaxy’s pre-production demons proved a bit too much for a truly deep evaluation, so much so that we can’t score the product until we get a shipping model. Even at this raw stage, however, it’s obvious that Sun has put quite a bit of physical engineering effort into making the Galaxy line a good rack-and-datacenter citizen.
At first glance, testing this hardware seemed easy. The 1U Galaxy 1 Sun that was shipped to us is definitely a well-designed, rack-oriented server from the case to the motherboard. All components are modular, meaning everything can be removed and easily replaced. Many of them are hot-swappable, like the power supplies, drives, and even the fans. CPUs, likewise, can be added without the need for a motherboard swap, at least for the foreseeable future. CPU upgrades, however, still require BIOS swaps.
You’ll also find several detailed niceties, such as status indicators on the motherboard for all major components, color-coded RAM sockets, and the capability to run BIOS updates across a network without the need for a bootable OS. This last feature translates into updating BIOS updates for a whole rack of servers, for example, using a central network distribution point.
If we have a quibble here, it’s with the Galaxy’s disk subsystem. The installed 73GB Fujitsu SAS disks surprised us because they’re actually 2.5-inch drives. Such drives tend to be a little slower than their full-sized SATA or SCSI counterparts, so this worried us a bit at first, but our fears proved unfounded, as we discovered later in our testing.
Within the clustering style of computing, Sun’s done a credible design job, especially apparent by the inclusion of the IPMI (Intelligent Platform Management Interface) out-of-band management protocol. Getting started with this capability proved tricky: The documentation points to four Gigabit Ethernet interfaces, but we found only three exposed on the back of the case. Turns out the fourth is the IPMI interface attached to the management daughter board that boots first and brings up the rest of the machine -- truly a lights-out feature. The Galaxy’s support for IPMI indicates a serious commitment to a total lights-out management environment with the capability to manage just about anything in the chassis, including fan speed, CPU temperature, smart power supplies, and remote mounting of removable media over IP. Disks aside, the Galaxy’s hardware engineering seems excellent.
The darker side
Galaxy’s software side isn’t quite so rosy. Initially, you’ve got a choice of Linux (Red Hat Enterprise) or Solaris for x86 during initial installation. Although Sun still won’t support Windows at this stage, the Galaxy’s hardware is Windows certified, and the company says it’s making Windows hardware drivers available for download from Galaxy’s support site.