Sun's New Linux Server: It's A Start


Sun's support of Linux in its new low-end LX50 server is a great start, but it is just a start. The box comes with a boatload of applications, just the ones that you would expect to get an applications server up and running on Linux. Still, the words "comes with" mean that some of the apps are pre-installed, while others will have to be tarred and configured. It is a lot more work than I bargained for, even though all this software comes at no extra charge.

Even if this is Sun's first Linux box, it shouldn't be yours: this is not the place to learn Linux. The old Cobalt Qubes and other versions are better at bringing newcomers along: the LX50 is really a box for old hands who know what they are doing.

The price point for this 1U server seems about right for what you get. They are going after Dell and white-box vendors, and are competitive. The box has two removable hard disk drives, dual 10/100 Ethernet ports, and the standard video, mouse and keyboard configurations of both Sun and PS/2-style connectors. All well and good. Gnome is the default X-windows display, but once you get behind the basic configuration tasks you'll be back to a terminal window and command line.

Initially, the LX50 comes with Linux, but this fall Sun will offer a Solaris 8 version, with Solaris 9 expected next year. That implies they rushed the box into production without gathering the necessary software and OS support.

I was bothered that some of the Sun-specific apps, like the Grid Engine and J2SE, don't come with any support--you would think since these come from another planet in the Sun universe, they should still be part of the Sun solar system and have some support in their orbits. Still, tracking down support resources for the remaining apps will take some patience and skilled navigation of the various Sun Web sites with the details: Sun could have designed a single place to have all the information together. (IBM's support resources come to mind as an example to follow.) And while I didn't test this, it does seem from cursory reading of the docs that different versions of the Java Development Environment are required by the various apps, but only one version is supplied.

Sun is intending this server as an "edge device"--meaning that you shouldn't depend on it for running your core business if you are a big enough enterprise. Yet the hardware is clearly solid, with separate PCI buses for running the disk and network subsystems and high-performance dual SCSI adapters included. I think resellers and solutions providers who are Linux-savvy could easily use this box to support core business applications for small and medium-sized businesses too.

At the announcement, Scott McNealey asked, "Why would you buy a two-way Linux box from anyone else but Sun?" The answer is pretty clear: if you weren't already building your own white-box models. The LX50 is a good start for Sun, but could use some more work on the integration and support ends.

Product:
LX50

Company:
Sun Microsystems
4150 Network Circle
Santa Clara, CA 95054
800-555-9SUN
www.sun.com

Price:
Starts at $2795 (1 CPU, 512 MB RAM, 36 GB disk
$5295 for 2 CPU, 2 GB RAM, 36 GB disk.

Pros:

  • First Sun box to support Linux.
  • Everything is in the box and included in the above price tag, except%85.

    Cons:

  • Still a great deal of setup and configuration for "built-in" apps.
  • Documentation consists of several Acrobat files on CD.
  • Not quite one-stop shopping for support

    Overall Grade:
    B-

    VARability Scale:
    ***

    Software Version:
    Pre-installed for Linux OS (using kernel version 2.4.9-31):
    MySQL 3.23.41
    Wu-FTPD 2.6.1
    Apache Web Server 1.3.22
    Sendmail and Bind

    Requires decompressing archives:
    Sun Grid Engine 5.2.3.1 (unsupported)
    Java 2 Standard Edition SDK 1.4 (unsupported)
    Environment ChiliSoft
    Active SeSun Open Network rver Pages 3.6.2
    Sun Streaming Server 1.0
    Tomcat 3.2.1

    Note:
    somewhat different software comes included on Solaris version, which isn't yet available.