Gunning for the data center: Sun's Starfire targets mainframe co-existence

Learn about the Ultra Enterprise 10000 offerings -- and how Sun is pursuing the $20 billion enterprise storage market and beefing up its services

By Stephen Lawton

San Francisco (1/22/97) -- Further extending its reach into the data center, Sun Microsystems unveiled its Ultra Enterprise 10000 with much fanfare at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) here. The mainframe-class system is designed to offload IBM-class systems of such applications as data warehousing and data mining, high-volume online transaction processing (OLTP), and packaged ERP applications (such as those from SAP and PeopleSoft). Ed Zander, president of Sun Microsystems Computer Company joked that on this day, MOMA stood for "move out that mainframe architecture."

In conjunction with the server introduction, Sun also announced data center-class storage disk and tape subsystems, as well as enhanced service and support. Sun has additional plans to enter the third-party attached storage market, competing with companies such as EMC and StorageTek. This move represents a significant departure from the company's traditional strategy to attach storage only to Sun systems. (Watch for further in-depth analysis of this topic in an upcoming issue of SunWorld). Sun says it will reveal more information about distribution, sales, and support of storage products for non-Sun platforms this spring.

The nitty gritty configuration details
The E10000, code-named "Starfire," boasts a scalable architecture of 16 to 64 250-MHz UltraSPARC processors, up to 64 gigabytes of system memory, 32 Sbus and 64 I/O slots, and more than 20 terabytes of online disk storage. The full complement of disks, memory, and I/O slots can be contained in the system's single chassis without need for an additional chassis.

The system has a maximum memory bus bandwidth of 12.8 gigabytes per second and I/O maximum bandwidth of 6.4 gigabytes per second. The system is designed to have no single point of hardware failure by using hot-swappable components.

Sun obtained the E10000's basic technology in July 1996 when it acquired the Cray Business Systems Division of Cray Research Inc. from Silicon Graphics Inc. The E10000 will compete against the Hewlett-Packard T600, Digital Equipment Corp. DEC 8400 TurboLaser, and the IBM RS/6000. All of the systems, except for the DEC 8400, run on 32-bit processors with 32-bit operating systems; Digital offers 64-bit Alpha processors and 64-bit Digital Unix. Mark Davis, Sun's manager of marketing strategy and programs for the storage products business unit, says that distinction is moot because the users' greater need generally is not addressing a larger memory address, which 64-bit processing offers, but rather addressing more memory in general. Although a 64-bit processor allows the system to address more than 8 gigabytes of system memory, he notes that Sun's 64-processor unit scales up to 64 gigabytes of memory, obviating the apparent shortfall.

The system is also capable of resizing partitions on the fly and having multiple partitions on a single disk. The benefit, Davis says, is that IS managers can partition a disk with different versions of Solaris -- possibly the version currently used by the data center along with a new release.

Sun's E10000
Sun's E10000

By using multiple partitions, applications can be migrated slowly to the latest version of the operating system without impacting users. Multiple partitions also allow IS managers to test other operating systems, then reject or expand their use, as required without affecting users.

The E10000 uses a scalable crossbar approach dubbed the Gigaplane-XB Interconnect. With this approach, each processor has multiple paths to other processors, allowing multiple processors to exist in a single system and reducing the need to cluster multiple systems to improve performance. The approach, Sun says, requires no changes in software and is suited for OLTP and distributed processing applications.

Also new to the system is the ability to isolate CPUs, memory, I/O, and interconnects using physical and logical partitioning. Should a software failure affect one of the dynamic system domains, it will not affect other domains, according Sun. The management of such domains, the company claims, can reduce administrative costs, eliminate idle or under-utilized resources, and provide flexibility in deploying resources.

A report by the Boston-based research firm The Yankee Group says that logical partioning is the most significant part of the Ultra Enterprise 10000 for several reasons. As a shared server, the report says, each E10000 domain could function as a separate departmental server and therefore allow IS managers to offer additional services to user groups such as storage management, automated operations, and system monitoring and ensure availability during peak workload times. Load balancing among the various domains can also be done on a permanent or temporary basis without disrupting business functions.

The report goes on to say that although the ability of domains to share data via the GigaPlane-XB interconnect isn't expected until the fourth quarter of this year, this will benefit the functions of both Internet firewalls and data mining. Since an Internet firewall can be set up on an E10000 domain instead of on a physically separate firewall server, data being transferred between the firewall domain and the application domain could take advantage of the GigaPlane-XB's speed (up to 12.8 gigabytes per second). The transfer of data mining applications between databases usually done via the network could also take advantage of the GigaPlane-XB's speed when source and target databases are allocated to different domains within the E10000, The Yankee Group says.

Sun's goal is not to displace mainframes but to augment them, Davis says. It would be useless to tell IS managers that the E10000 is a mainframe replacement, since companies have huge investments in custom software and mainframe-only applications, he notes. Newer and specialized applications, however, can be moved to a Unix server, he says, without disrupting the traditional mainframe environment.

He also contends that it is unusual to find a data center in a large company that doesn't have at least one Sun system, so selling IS managers on Sun is less of a task than it had been in past years. As an adjunct to the hardware, Sun is also packaging data center-class storage, backup, service, and support.

An entry-level configuration for the Enterprise 10000 system includes 16 processors and 2 gigabytes of memory and is priced starting at $870,000. Although it is available now, worldwide volume shipments won't begin until March.

Sun takes on EMC
In the disk arena, Sun is taking direct aim at mainframe storage vendor EMC and its Symmetrix line. Sun is positioning itself as an alternative to EMC in what it estimates to be a $20 billion enterprise storage market. John Shoemaker, Sun's vice president and general manager of server and storage, says one of Sun's little-known secrets is its success in the storage business. Sun currently has 1.5 petabytes of high-end RAID installed -- the highest volume in the Unix industry. Shoemaker says this number is equivalent to storing 7.5 million years-worth of Wall Street Journals.

Joining Sun's line is the RSM Array 2000, a subsystem that supports up to 20 terabytes and offers fully-redundant components for high availability. The subsystem supports RAID levels 0, 1, 0+1, 3, and 5. It has a non-volatile cache size at 1 terabyte of 896 megabytes. It incorporates a SCSI-3 host interface and offers such standard mainframe-class features as hot spares, hot-pluggable drives, redundant I/O paths, controllers, power and cooling, and mirrored cache.

List pricing for the Sun RSM Array 2000 is under $0.50 per megabyte for a fully-configured system. It will begin shipping next month for Solaris servers. Support for non-Solaris hosts will be announced in the future.

For backup, Sun is adding the Enterprise Tape Library 4/1000, a four-drive digital linear tape (DLT) subsystem that can store up to 2 terabytes of data per library. It is currently available and has an entry price of $85,000 and includes both management and monitoring software.

In the storage management arena, Sun launched its Enterprise Storage Software, a Java-based application that allows IS managers to make any desktop a storage management console. The software can manage back-ups, archives, and hierarchial storage management issues, as well as file system and volume management. IS managers can use any desktop as the storage management console by linking to the software over the Web. Pricing has yet to be announced.

Both the tape library and storage management software are from ATL Products Inc. of Anaheim, CA. ATL and Sun entered into a joint development agreement for the software component, but the hardware is based on ATL's 4/52 DLT tape library.

Rounding it out with more service and support
In addition to hardware offerings, Sun is also upgrading its service, support, and consulting to match the needs of data center clients, says Ken Buchanan, Sun Services' director of systems and network management and IT consulting. Sun plans to bundle its Gold Level support program, which includes 7x24 support, proactive account management, a mission-critical support team, SunVIP interoperability support, an uptime guarantee option, remote system diagnostics, and global geographic coverage. As part of the global coverage, Sun is opening Solutions Centers in Brazil, Argentina, China, and Hong Kong, which will bring the global number of such centers to 31.

As part of the SunVIP program, customers can call a single phone number to get support for both Sun's hardware and software from some of Sun's partners, he says. If the problem is software related, he says, customers will be transferred directly to the software vendor's tech support facility via tie-lines; they won't have to make a separate phone call and traverse the multiple levels of tech support before reaching someone who can answer their problem.

A separate SPARCstation 5 workstation is built into the E10000 for maintenance and diagnostics. A Sun engineer can dial into the console, or connect via the network, and perform maintenance on the system without affecting the primary processors. While such an apporach to maintenance is not uncommon in the mainframe world, it is unusual for Sun's traditional workstations, the company notes. In order to appeal to the mainframe-oriented IS manager, however, the company is making its service program more in line with programs offered by mainframe vendors.

A platinum program, with enhanced services, is available as an option. This service includes availability guarantees, personal technical support, and patch and field change order management assistance.

Other services being added as part of the professional services operation is IT assessment and architecture services, systems and network management and architecture services, and security services, including firewall service. As part of these programs, Sun will partner with companies such as Andersen Consulting to assist customers in architecture design and management. While Andersen will handle all of the integration with other platforms, Sun's professional services group will deal with the integration of the Sun hardware.

"We wanted to make sure services wasn't the poor stepchild," Buchanan says, explaining that data center managers expect more from a service vendor than simple tech support. Sun's improved service offerings "are not raising the ante, it's calling the bet."
--Carolyn Wong contributed to this article

Ultra Enterprise Server Family -- January 1997
Product Name Enterprise
Intro. Date 11/95 4/96 4/96 4/96 4/96 4/96 4/96 1/97
Model 1 CPU 1 CPU 2 CPUs 1 CPU 1 CPU 6 CPUs 6 CPUs 12 CPUs 6 CPUs 12 CPUs 12 CPUs 24 CPUs 64 CPUs
Processor UltraSPARC UltraSPARC and UltraSPARC II UltraSPARC II
Clock Speed 143 MHz 167 MHz 167 MHz 200 MHz 167 MHz 250 MHz (167 MHz also available) 250 MHz
Number of CPUs 1 1 to 2 1 1 to 6 1 to 14 1 to 14 1 to 30 1 to 64
Cache Size - external 512KB 512KB 1MB 512KB 1MB 1MB
I/O Slots 3 4 2 3-9 3-21 3-21 3-45 1-64
Memory Capacity 1GB 2GB 1GB 6GB 14GB 14GB 30GB 64GB
Maximum Storage 324GB 1TB 349.2GB >2TB >4TB >6TB >10TB 20TB
Estimated TPM[1] 1,250 1,332 1,485 3,107 1,332 1,850 9,400 9,400 15,500 9,400 15,500 15,500 22,000
I/O Throughput 133MB/sec. 1.2GB/sec. 2.6GB/sec. 6.4GB
SPECint-rate95[2] - 59 59 - 59 84 505 505 1,007 505 1,007 1,007 1,942 -
SPECfp-rate95[3] - 83 83 - 83 104 584 584 1,073 584 1,073 1,073 1,256 -
FontLADDIS NFSpos/s 1,812 2,102 2,102 4,303 2,102 NA 8,368 9,673 15,247 9,673 15,247 17,737 24,477 -
Hot Plug - - Disks Systems Components Hot Swap[3]
Power - - Future Redundant, Hot Swap Fault Tolerant
System Monitor - Yes
Base Configuration 1 143MHz CPU, 64MB, 2.1GB disk, CD-ROM 2 167MHz CPU, 128MB, 2.1GB disk, CD-ROM 1 167MHz CPU, 32MB, 2.1GB disk, CD-ROM, floppy 1 167MHz CPU, 64MB, 2.1GB disk, CD-ROM 1 167MHz CPU, 64MB, 4.2GB Disk, CD-ROM 1 167MHz CPU, 64MB, 4.2GB Disk, CD-ROM 1 167MHz CPU, 64MB, 4.2GB Disk, CD-ROM 16 250MHz CPU, 2GB, CD-ROM
Base Price[4] $7,495 $18,995 $13,845 $42,050 $75,800 $90,800 $208,800 $873,890
1 -- SMCC estimated.     2 -- SMCC SPECrate results used SPARCompiler from SunSoft.     3 -- Everything plus full software support.     4 -- U.S. List Price
Source: Sun Microsystems