How to completely ruin a great piece of server kit (regarding the Sun X4200 M2)

Here’s how you do it. First, you take what is considered a pinnacle of x86 server design, the glorious x4200 where every single chip has been selected for maximum reliability and performance. Like, say, the quad on-board Intel Gigabit Ethernet chips. Then, you create a new revision called the x4200 “M2” and replace the first two Gigabit Ethernet ports with fscking NVidia NForce crap. That’s it. Done. You’ve just ruined it.

The Intel GigE chip and (perhaps more importantly) driver are considered the best across all operating systems. Whether it be FreeBSD, Linux, Windows, or Solaris, the Intel driver rocks. It’s understood. It performs. It’s reliable. People go out of their way to build systems with these chips. The Nvidia “nge” driver, however, is not exactly regarded as a top notch piece of software. Yes, I’m being polite.

Perhaps even more dramatic is what changing network chips does to OS driver profiles. I’m talking Jumpstart profiles. Kickstart profiles. Ghost images. Boot disks. In a bigger shop, now you’ve got re-qualify the machine, a process that might take weeks or months.

Come on Sun, this is the kind of thing that really pisses off sysadmins who know their hardware, and shops like ours where things are really standardized from top to bottom. We’re not going to keep wasting 2 days trying to get M2’s to PXEBOOT (also a change). We went through the entire stack, and it still isn’t working. To make matters more irritating, the change is mentioned nowhere on sun.com, the architectural whitepapers linked to from the site (about X4200 M2s) are now incorrect, and don’t get me started on the phone support. So we’re sending a stack of these back and we’re currently lighting candles in churches, praying that the x4100s don’t get screwed up as well. I mean can’t we just keep buying something again and again and again and again, and just have it work?

18 Comments on “How to completely ruin a great piece of server kit (regarding the Sun X4200 M2)

  1. Clearly the systems they sent you were mislabeled as servers and should be returned. Real servers have Intel NICs. Maybe Broadcom. NVidia? Inexcusable!

  2. Ted: I was thinking the same thing.

    I remember talk about grid/utility computing, and in the same breath how awsome the Sun, F5 etc. kit is it all runs on, locked away in some dark data center.

    And my lamps burn brighter on Acme electricity!

    Actually, just as long as the lamps burn…

  3. So… what am I missing here? They still sell the plain jane x4200. If you don’t want the m2, don’t order it?

    You said “I mean can’t we just keep buying something again and again and again and again, and just have it work?”

    …YOU changed the order to an M2. You can keep ordering something again and again and again and again, but you didn’t, so why is that Sun’s fault?

    Honestly, what am I missing here?

  4. The road of love/hate
    ______________________

    Hate (March 2006) – Trying to buy SUN hardware

    http://joyeur.com/2006/03/20/the-sun-doesnt-shine-on-me

    Love (Sep 2006) – Thumper is the Messiah and Joyent was able to get one

    http://joyeur.com/2006/09/03/more-thumper-more-beer-and-everything-is-clear

    Hate (Apr 2007) – Dumb network connection

    http://joyeur.com/2007/04/16/how-to-completely-ruin-a-great-piece-of-server-kit-aka-the-sun-x4200

    There was a few more loves in there about how awesome Solaris, Containers, Zones, etc.

    I find it interesting that on SUN server page http://www.sun.com/servers/index.jsp (the page you go to when you select Products -> Servers) doesn’t even list the X4200. Yet it exists because you can find out more about it at http://www.sun.com/servers/entry/x4200/

    Personally, because its not listed on the servers page – I never new the X4200 existed.

  5. TimC: We wanted to get the same x4100s we’ve always ordered, but we couldn’t get them. In fact, the only “4000 series” galaxy we could get was the x4200 M2. That’s how we ended up with them.

  6. Thanks for the Silicon Mechanics link. I might have to buy a few servers from them.

    They have fabulous configuration options for 1U (16 DIMM, 4 hot-swappable drives) rackmounts and dirt cheap prices.

  7. It is just bait-and-switch. As soon, as you get sufficient mindshare, go to third-tier components.

    I don’t think Sun has been in the x86 business long enough. They think they can maintain their reputation as x86 server darlings (and their x86 business has been a financial bright spot at Sun), by going third tier (or lower in the case Nvidia).

    Dell and IBM have been in the business long enough to know you can’t start calling collections of assorted desktop components servers. And Sun will learn their lesson too.

  8. After looking at Silicon Mechanices product offering, I’m frankly suprised Joyent doesn’t go with them. There prices are incredible.

    Take this 1U Intel server as an example:

    http://www.siliconmechanics.com/i5992/intel-dual-core-server.php

    I can put 2 Quad Core, 64 MB RAM (16 DIMMs) and 4 hot swappable disks in this single 1U (yes, 1U) for dirt cheap.

    By the way Mark, it does include the Intel GigE for network.

  9. I’ve heard good things about the rackspace Opteron boxes. Anyone have experience with them to comment further?

  10. Hello! Well-behaved resurs. Base for my english, but i danged nice say &hJ$)K!!!.

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