Sun Fire X4500 server crams 48 drives into 4U
The "Thumper" redefines storage performance — as long as you run this behemoth on SolarisFollow @pvenezia
What is it good for?
Sun is marketing the X4500 as an enormous storage repository for applications with enormous storage needs (such as IP surveillance) and as a single-point storage server for apps running on other servers. Unlike most storage devices, however, the server runs a standard build of Solaris, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, or Windows, and each drive is independent, without any hardware RAID.
For Linux and Windows, this is a problem, as the default file systems on those OSes aren't really equipped to deal with this number of drives in a single system, nor with the file system sizes you can achieve with the X4500. Those operating systems can make use of the X4500, but with limited I/O speeds, higher CPU utilization, and the requirement that the 48 drives be cut into smaller logical segments. For instance, the default file system on RHEL4, ext3, is limited to 8TB, and it's not possible to create a software RAID with more than 20 devices.
By leveraging Sun's ZFS (Zettabyte File System) under Solaris, however, the playing field changes drastically. ZFS can address all the disks in a single logical array, and can easily handle a 24TB file system -- and even a 48TB file system when X4500 is certified to run with 1TB SATA drives. (Check out our analysis of ZFS and our screencast demo for more on this file system.)
One of the issues I encountered with the X4500 was very simple: how to find one drive in the sea of disks inside the box. For Solaris and Linux, a simple utility called "hd" creates an ASCII map of the internal drive layout, showing the device address of each physical drive. Without this utility, locating a single disk would be maddening.
File system exercises
I first ran tests under ZFS, running OpenSolaris b57 on the X4500. Creating a file system of all 46 data drives was the work of a few seconds; creating mountpoints, iSCSI targets, and NFS and Samba shares took a few more minutes. All told, the process of turning the X4500 from a standard Solaris server into a very high-capacity NAS was as quick as that of any canned NAS solution on the market, but without built-in extras such as replication (although ZFS can be configured to perform this task).
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