The new mainframe from Sun: The Sun Fire X4450
In case you didn´t know it: Sun has a mainframe in it´s product line up. The system is called Sun Fire X4450. This is not a joke … really. Okay, it´s a x86 server, but when our system isn´t a mainframe, the newly announced SQ100 BS2000 mainframe from Fujitsu Siemens isn´t one as well.
I normally don´t have the BS2000 mainframes in my primary focus, but an article in the german IT news portal heise.de attracted my attention. An Intel XEON based mainframe! What the heck …. ? Did they designed a completely new x86 server to get a mainframe class computer getting rid of all the legacies of the x86 world? No they didn´t, at least i assume that based on the sparse public informations. But at first, i should give you some additional information. FSC used standard components for their midrange and entry mainframes for some time now. I knew before, that the old SX-class of FSC mainframes are nothing much more than Primepower 900 systems with a Primepower 250 as the system controller. You will find this information even in the manuals to the SX160. The compatibility to the S-series (S/390 compatible) is done by a software called S390 firmware (i would call it S390 emulator). As the Primepower systems are descent systems (not as good as Sun Fire Systems in regard RAS, but much better than x86 servers) is looked as a valid way to build a mainframe on standard components. But this new system from FSC seems to take this concept a step too far. I´ve looked at the specification of the system, and it looked really similar to a plain standard x86 server with some extra features like memory mirroring (but that´s a standard feature of some Intel chipsets). When you look at the datasheet, it sounds somewhat like our quad socket server X4450. 4 sockets for general purpose CPUs ? Check. 4 Gigabit Ethernet connection? Check. PCI-Express? Check. Hot Swap Fan? Check. Hot Swap Power Supply Check? 4 Harddisks? X4450 has eight … Furthermore FSC announces that this mainframe is capable to run Linux or Windows in the future. To solve the miracle: It´s just XEN under the hood. But XEN needs a host operating system. Linux for example. Is this a mainframe with Linux at the most basic foundation? This would take the concept of mainframe Linux up to a new level. ;) I have no problem with building such a system. It looks like a viable choice to renew a mainframe for some old legacy applications nobody wants to touch (as you have to go to the graveyard to get support) and which are not that important. But: The word “mainframe” is connected to extreme availability and stability. I have my doubt that a pimped desktop CPU with some open source technology on top it is really worth the moniker “mainframe”. I´m really looking forward to read the user manual to learn more about this system, but i would really wonder, if i don´t see a standard FSC Primergy server in this system. This sound as strange as when IBM would install hercules on a xSeries system with Solaris as the basic operating system (because of FMA and Resource Management) and call it their new entry-level mainframe. At the end A SPARC64 VI and VII would be a more sensible choice to build such a device, with fully ECC protected data paths and such nifty features like instruction retry this would be a real mainframe and not just a pimped and expensive x86 server.