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Sun Microsystems

Sun Releases Starcat 305

SilentChris writes: "Sun has released the Starcat server, a beast with up to 106 processors running Unix. Anyone have an extra couple [million] bucks lying around?" They're not cheap.
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Sun Releases Starcat

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  • Yeah (Score:3, Funny)

    by SpanishInquisition ( 127269 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @02:22PM (#2348357) Homepage Journal
    At last a platform to get descent java performance...
  • just wait (Score:5, Funny)

    by smnolde ( 209197 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @02:22PM (#2348358) Homepage
    until it shows up on e-bay from a disgruntled former dot bomb employee who five-fingered it from a linux shop which stole BSD code.
  • by segfaultcoredump ( 226031 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @02:25PM (#2348385)
    Lets remember, that this system is not intended to replace a beowolf cluster of cheap pc's. It is intended to do something that most beowolf clusters can never do: present a single OS image with half a terabyte of memory that any cpu can access at very high speed.

    This is a system that is very good at things like fluid dynamics and massive database operations. It is not a good idea if all you want to do is get to the top of the list for the SETI@Home project
    • by nion ( 19898 ) < minus threevowels> on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @02:29PM (#2348417) Homepage
      It is not a good idea if all you want to do is get to the top of the list for the SETI@Home project.

      Been there, done that. Tech here working with the StarFire used to run Seti@Home on idle systems. 64 400MHz UltraSparcs. Team Sun@Home rose rather quickly in the ranks those days, I hear. ;)

    • Agreed.
      This would make a killer render system, assuming the renderer can handle that many threads.

      This is why beowulf rendering is bad. Network performance for shared memory sucks.

      With renders hitting the 2GB + mark for memory useage, do you really want a network passing that data arround.

      What could happen with systems like this is that the render time vs. load time would get extremely lopsided. 30 minute loads and under a minute a frame. It would force a rethink of how the render jobs get distributed and ran.Best case would be a few of these, for each different departments render needs. But then we are talking 20+ million for rendering. That buys a lot of intel boxes.
      If I was given one, I would try to use it. But I don't think I could ever seriously suggest buying one. But that is me and my particular application.

  • What's special about 106? How did they come up with that number? I could see making the upper bound a power of two, a perfect square perhaps, but 106? Perhaps they were shooting for 128, but couldn't get those last 22 to play nicely with the others?
    • It has to do with how many CPUs fit on a board, and how many boards fit into the box. Get a bigger box, and that architecture can theoretically handle 1024 processors. :)
      • Re:106? (Score:2, Insightful)

        by BLAG-blast ( 302533 )
        Maybe the performance with 107 CPUs is lower than 106 CPUs. Adding more CPU does not equal more power.
        • You can have each CPU board running a seperate OS, attatched to a seperate set of devices such as hard drives, ethernet, etc. In this case, more CPUs are more power. But if you are running them as one OS instance, yes, it might get a bit silly, at that level. It depends on what you're doing with it.
    • Re:106? (Score:5, Informative)

      by segfaultcoredump ( 226031 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @02:34PM (#2348473)
      The system grows to 106 in the following way:

      There are 18 "cpu/memory" boards that hold 4 cpu's each. This brings the system up to a total of 72 cpu's and 576GB of ram.

      Now, if you want an server that just does number crunching and dont care about I/O, you can then add 'MaxCPU" modules. Each module holds two additional cpu's (no memory) and occupies the hPCI module slot (a hot swap PCI case that can hold what looks like two to four pci cards). You can use up to 17 of the hPCI module slots to hold MaxCPU modules. (there are 18 pci channels on the system, and at least one must be used for accessing the boot disk).

      So there ya have it, 106 cpu's and half a terabyte of ram. I think that in most cases, folks will opt to not use the MaxCPU modules and just stick to the 72 cpu limit.
    • Maybe they're just being sponsored by some Peugeot nostalgics []. ;)
  • Not being a server dude, are these things parallel processing machines or just a server farm contained within a refridgerator?

    Actually for that price I hope it functions as a refridgerator, as well as a dishwasher, robotic maid and would provide protection during nuclear fallout.
    • These can be either. It depends on how you configure it. And the fun this is, you can reconfigure it on the fly. You want a cluster in a box? You got it. You want 2 seperate instances of Solaris running, each using 1/3rd the resources of this box, while you pull out the hardware on the rest of the box for maintenance? You got it. This thing is _configurable_. You can hot swap everything except the backplane, pretty much. It's _sweet_.
  • That's it... (Score:2, Redundant)

    by daeley ( 126313 )
    From now on, the official phrase should be "Whoa! Imagine a Starcat Cluster of those!"

    And is it just me or did the old "Thundercats" show just pop into your head?
    • Um. I believe Starcat Cluster is a trademark owned by the Little Debbie Food Group Inc., Lubbock Texas. It consists of two Star Crunch patties glued together with Mallow Kreeme filling. Then dipped in a Chocolastic sealant.

      Just watch out. I hear Debbie has quite a few lawyers.
  • by Wiggins ( 3161 )
    Maybe they need one of those things powering as when I hit the page I got the following:

    Configuration Error

    1) Error calling config servlet: sunir.webdesk.common.checker.ConfigInternalExcepti on: Couldn't get sql connection

    Then I tried to reload the page and didn't even get a response....

  • by MSBob ( 307239 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @02:30PM (#2348431)
    Sun themselves are in a need for boxes like that as their website seems severely slashdotted right now.
  • *yawn* (Score:2, Informative)

    by eXtro ( 258933 )
    This isn't even a really impressive box. I'd rather have an sgi O3K system if I'm going for the ultimate in servers you can actually purchase. The SGI Origin 3800 [] has anywhere from 16 to 512 processors, 716 GB/sec system bandwidth and up to a terabyte of memory. It's also a single system image machine. Oh yeah, and you can cluster them to scale way beyond 512 processors.
  • You know, if the brain had one of these to run simulations on, he an pinky probably could take over the world!
  • Tried to get to Suns Order page to spec out a system for fun...

    No such luck. I wonder if we /.ed DELL [] we could bring it to its knees. What kind of servers are running on each site ???

  • Now I can model the water flow down the shower drain (fluid dynamics). Cool. But can it model the flow of $$$ down the drain that would occur if I purchased it?

    I'm all for new and spiffy hardware, but some things are just too much. I woner what the margin on one of these things is... I'm having trouble seeing how they expect to sell enough of these to cover the R&D costs... Maybe they'll sell them to the NSA so that agency can be brought into the 21st century...

    • Yeah, building extremely fast computers to solve new types of problems is a stupid idea. Thanks for the reality check, you probably just saved all those gullible physicists lots of money.
    • You've got to take your return on investment into account. Which would you rather have, an entire row in the datacenter filled with NT servers, or entire row filled with other *NIX boxes. Or just have a few of these in your datacenter and the rest filled with storage? If you look at it, having one of these and a wad of storage makes sense. Especially if you're running a worldwide corporation and maintaining their SAP and Oracle on the box.

      Before I started working for Sun I drooled over the E10k, but thought I'd never see more than one in a computer room. How wrong I've been. I've since walked into datacenters and seen rows of 10k's all humming along. And I'd imagine I'll see the same thing with the 15k's in a few years.
  • by digital_freedom ( 453387 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @02:35PM (#2348479)
    Dear Santa,
    I've been a real good gEek this year. I wrote several white-hat worms to fix IIS holes. I defended IP rights in the Linux kernel. I also mirrored the LOTR trailer.
    Could I please get just one little old Starcat Server from Sun? Please make sure it is the 106 processor version with 576 GB of RAM.
    I will be real good and use my idle time for SETI.

    Your pal,

    P.S. Chocolate chip cookies are your favorite right?
  • Hmph, seems as though the dot in .com can not hang with a little slashdot on them. I can ping it, but no response from port 80 from here...

    Perhaps they should use one of those bad boys for the webserver?
  • Configuration Error

    1) Error calling config servlet:
    sunir.webdesk.common.checker.ConfigInternalExcep ti on:
    Couldn't get sql connection
  • According to the specifications [], it has support for up to 18 quad-processor boards. That's a total of 72 processors, so where are they getting the 106 number from?

    Wow, up to 72 *hot swappable* PCI devices!

  • Cool (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Buzzwang ( 265168 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @02:41PM (#2348524) Journal
    I'm glad to see that some companies are at least trying to accomplish new things and come out with new products given the state of our economy and markets and such. Even if people think it is overpriced or under-powered and what not that still doesn't degrade the fact that it is a relatively new product in a squishy market. Personally, I own a few hundred shares of SGI stock, but I'm still happy to see any tech comapny suck in their gut, tighten their belt and release a new product in this market. Makes me want to believe the tech markets will turn around sooner than people believe. Kudos to Sun for still working on new products and trying to generally improve things. Now, if Cray would follow suit, I'd be a happy man...
  • I wonder how many players can 2 dedicated Tribes 2 Starcats can take. ( 106 cpu each ... mmmm )

    That's, of course, if Tribes 2 ever gets ported to S'low'aris. ;)

    • Solaris picked up the "slow-laris" nickname from its performance on tiny single and dual processor boxes. It's not an operating system optimized for small need at least eight processors before you begin to really realize performance benefits.

      You can forget about Tribes 2 being ported anywhere...didn't Sierra close the doors? If Tribes 2 were ported, it's far more likely the x86 arch would be chosen as a target instead of the SPARC arch, as game-playing weenies don't care for anything without a BIOS.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @02:42PM (#2348531)
    "Wow, look at all the hits we're getting on the Starcat shopping cart! We're going to make a mint on these suckers!"
  • partitions (Score:4, Interesting)

    by cornflux ( 168139 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @02:42PM (#2348535)
    CNET article:
    The system can simultaneously use 900MHz processors with faster models yet to come. However, each partition requires all processors to run at the same speed, so faster chips will have to run in a partition of their own.

    As someone who does nothing with these types of systems, nor follows them, I think it's great that you can have different processor speeds using "partitions."

    I wonder if memory is treated the same way... i.e., separated by "partitions," or if you also have a choice to use it as one, large unified memory resource... or, I wonder if memory can be dynamically partitioned... hmm.

    Actually, now that I'm thinking about it... are all of the processor partitions considered peers? I mean, are the partitions all treated as if they were a single processor... then treated equally?

    • Re:partitions (Score:5, Informative)

      by Doctor_D ( 6980 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @03:13PM (#2348750) Homepage Journal
      According to the specs [] each processor board holds 4 processors and 32 gigs of memory.

      Now, if the starcat treats domains (partitions) the same as the E10k (I haven't been to training yet on it), then each domain at minimum will consist of 4 processors and 32 gigs of ram, ie 1 processor board. Basicaly these doamins are treated as seperate boxes as far as Solaris is concerned. You configure a domain to say contain 2 system boards, and then when you load Solaris, it then sees 8 processors and 64 gigs of memory. This way you can allocate resources as the need fits. But this means it doesn't look like the virtual processor that mainframes present.

      The starcat may deal with processors above 72 in a different way, but I honestly don't know at this time how it deals with them.

      Hope this helps answer your question.
    • Re:partitions (Score:2, Informative)

      by cornflux ( 168139 )
      Not really a follow-up, per se... but...

      The Register has an article about the launch of the StarCat [] including a quote where McNealy said, with tears in his eyes, "God I hate my job."

      Apparently, McNealy had a hard time speaking during the event, which was held in New York City, due to the death of a long-time Sun employee in the terrorist attacks on the WTC.

    • Re:partitions (Score:2, Informative)

      by theyman ( 13931 )
      Not only can they be partitioned by system board (so long as a system board has a CPU, memory and access to disk it can be made a domain) but, assuming it follows e10k functionality, you can 'blacklist' any component if it starts mis-behaving and it won't be used again until you say it's OK. Unlike 'redlisting' (ask your friendly sun bod about that...)
  • by ch-chuck ( 9622 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @02:43PM (#2348546) Homepage
    to get on the National US ID Card database bandwagon with Oracle... It'll only need to store about 300 million records with DNA, fingerprint, picture for facial recognition software, key escrow, etc...

  • They're not cheap.

    Since when has new (let alone the latest and greatest) Sun hardware been "cheap?" Sure, there might be some good values but it's never cheap.

    And then there's the product itself. It's huge, it's fast, it's not intended for the home user, or even a medium-sized business. Let's just look at the specs, pulled from Sun's info page:

    • Up to 106 UltraSPARC[tm] III Cu 900-MHz processors.
    • Big memory - more than 1/2 TB.

    • Up to 18 fifth-generation Dynamic System Domains, which are fully configurable while applications are running.
    • Hot-swappable Uniboard design CPU/memory boards that are common across Sun Fire server family.
    • Redundant, high-performance Sun[tm] Fireplane Interconnect with up to 172.8 GBps peak bandwidth.
    • Full redundancy of power and cooling systems.

    Are you trying to be funny by saying it's not cheap? Was that a +5 Insightful comment that we all would have missed out on had you not enlightened us? Are you implying that there are other manufacturers who do sell these kinds of systems for cheap?

    In your defense, you do have an astonishing command of the perfectly obvious.
  • Starcat sounds like a perfect companion for Ellison's ID card. With them the government can adequately track the behavior of everyone who isn't a terrorist.
  • Configuration Error

    1) Error calling config servlet: sunir.webdesk.common.checker.ConfigInternalExcepti on: Couldn't get sql connection

    Hmmm... looks like their DB server is down.

    • We may want to forgive Sun for being a bit slow in getting their DB server back up and pretty. A huge chuck of their support staff is helping bale out clients whose data centers got blown up out east. On the other hand, it's your brand new product, you gotta make sure it's available to be bought up. But then again, who in their right mind would just go online and buy one of these? I'd bet ALL of these are sold through meetings between sales reps and IT purchasers.
  • I wonder how this would compare with the sheer amount of hardware [] that was thrown at the rendering of that movie. (I can't find the original link, but over and above the SGI stations that were used there were hundreds of clustered 'normal' PCs)

    Just thinking "could they've just slapped a few of these suckers into place instead?"
    • The good thing about Intel based render farms is that theya re cheap. The bad thing is... theya re cheap.

      Intel based hardware does NOT have great MTBF (Mean Time Between Faiulre) unfortunately but inevitably as Intel boxes are commodities built for least possible expense. As a result large Intel farms mean near constant maintainence. Soem machine is always on the verge of failure.

      In contrast so much horse power in a highly reliable box means both fewer machiens to fai lAND much lower MTBF per machine.

      The result is much lower Total Cost of Ownership.
  • or did we just Slashdot Sun?

    1) Error calling config servlet: sunir.webdesk.common.webconfig.WebConfigException: Server busy.. please try again.


  • 106 procs, so what (Score:2, Informative)

    by jshawley ( 451275 )
    I'm not sure what is so exciting about a system with 106 processors. When the SGI Origin 3000 can scale to 1024 with a single image of the OS running on it, now that is impressive. Maybe everyone should check out Though the site states that it only goes to 512, there is now an official installed system running 1024 that you can see at Now that is IMPRESSIVE!
    • by segfaultcoredump ( 226031 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @04:46PM (#2349346)
      The SGI origin has a ccNUMA architecture, which makes it great for some tasks, ok for others, and awful for yet others. (the trick is to make sure that your particular app falls under the 'great' category)

      The sun system is an smp based system, everything connects to a common backplane and each board has equal access to all of the other boards. With the sgi, the speed of accessing memory on the local board or boards in the same cabinet is much faster than hits to memory in remote cabinets.

      From what I can tell, Sun is planing on producing a special system board that goes into one of those 18 slots. Thus, with 19 StarCats you can create one big system with 1836 cpu's and 9.7TB of ram. (think of a system in the middle that acts as the center of a star) it will most likely be based on a COMA architecture rather than a ccNUMA. Like the SGI, memory access will depend on the distance between the requesting cpu and the storage location. The difference is that under COMA, if a cpu requests a particular bit of memory a lot, that page is either migrated or copied to a memory bank on that cpu's memory board (so if 5 cpu's all need read only access to the same bit of memory, then they can each have their own copy in a local memory bank. write updates are what make the system a pain in the ass to manage ).
  • 200-240 single phase VAC, 47-63 Hz, with six 30 Amp circuits redundant with another six on 2 separate power grids

    Can you get it bundled with 12 30A 240V 100meter extention cords? (So you could plug it directly in to every panel on the block.
  • Nooo! (Score:2, Funny)

    by 7-Vodka ( 195504 )
    Damit! I thought the headline said "sun releases starcraft"!

  • Man, you'd have to be Bill Gates to afford one of these suckers!
  • Insecure (Score:3, Funny)

    by Syberghost ( 10557 ) <syberghost@sybergho[ ]com ['st.' in gap]> on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @04:37PM (#2349299) Homepage
    I thought we weren't supposed to use strcat anymore, because it's subject to buffer overflows?
  • My eyes playing tricks :).

  • strcat? (Score:5, Funny)

    by J'raxis ( 248192 ) on Tuesday September 25, 2001 @05:00PM (#2349446) Homepage
    We all know strncat() is better.
  • Buy online (Score:2, Funny)

    by Pacorro ( 16464 )

    "Click here to buy online"

    Who the heck buys this stuff online ???!?!?!

    "Mhmm I think I'll charge this one to my Discover card"

  • SCHZHCHC.. Thank you for choosing Sun... Can I take your order

    Umm... Lemme see... It's not breakfast anymore is it?

    No sir....

    Hmmm... Can I have one of those Sun 15k servers?

    Ok... 1 Sun 15k server... That will be $1,808,110.00.... Would you like to super-size that order?

    Yeah sure... Why not..

    Aight... That will come to $4,140,830.00

    Would you like to add on the extra disk array for only $480,400.00

    No thats Ok

    Ok... With tax your total comes to $4,430,688.10

    Please drive around to the next window

  • TCO (Score:2, Funny)

    From the site:

    With 106 UltraSPARC III Cu 900-MHz processors, more than half a terabyte of memory, and fifth-generation Dynamic System Domains, the Sun Fire 15k server helps redefine total cost of ownership in data center environments

    Yeah, no kidding...
  • You think 100 processors are a lot? Take a look at SGI3000 [] which can come with 1024 processors at any time. Now that's a lot! ;-)
  • by Ciannait ( 82722 ) on Wednesday September 26, 2001 @05:15AM (#2351660)
    Yes, there's a buy online button. But that's used to get info so one of their sales droids can contact you. It's not like you can slap it on your Visa card. :)

    (Disclaimer, I work a lot with E10Ks, so this post is written mostly from my experience with those.)
    The 15K is basically just an improvement on the E10K architecture, from what I've seen and heard from Sun's SSEs. The E10K started out life as the Cray SuperServer, and was sold to Sun for a song. It's not architecturally perfect. The E10K is set up to allow individual system boards to be part of domains (aka partitions), which can make for some great scalability in the domains. I've seen tiny little one-system-board domains, and domains with 13 fully populated system boards in them.

    One of the major advantages to this platform is the fact that you can hot-swap everything except the centerplane. (Of course, I've never seen a centerplane fail.) The E10K also has Dynamic Reconfiguration, where you can remove system boards from a running domain, but unless your platform is set up in a certain, specific way, this doesn't work as well as advertised. I've personally never used it. The best thing about the E10K is the use of the System Service Processor, which handles all the administrative tasks for the entire cabinet. I've heard that the SSP is now integrated into the 15K, thus eliminating the need for a separate system to perform these tasks and monitoring.

    The only thing I've ever seen this class of system used for is data warehousing. No modeling, no graphics rendering, just Oracle databases. Just because it has a large number of processors, doesn't mean they're going to be suitable for every task imaginable. (I used to have a 180MHz Indy R5000, that got 68kkeys/sec in My 166MMX got something like 350kkeys/sec.) These are workhorse processors, not sports-car style processors.

    Though I wonder if Sun's gotten around to fixing that nasty ecache parity error problem with their processors... Having a domain randomly crash because the parity bit on a processor got flipped is no fun when you're dealing with a large production database. I have a feeling that problem will continue to plague them in the 15K.

    • The E10K also has Dynamic Reconfiguration, where you can remove system boards from a running domain, but unless your platform is set up in a certain, specific way, this doesn't work as well as advertised. I've personally never used it.

      Well actually the Ex500's also have DR, and of course the newer Ex800's. DR is a great idea, works great in lab environment. Honestly it's cool to see the running kernel jump from one system board to the other. But it's a product that I have never seen in the wild.

      Though I wonder if Sun's gotten around to fixing that nasty ecache parity error problem with their processors... Having a domain randomly crash because the parity bit on a processor got flipped is no fun when you're dealing with a large production database. I have a feeling that problem will continue to plague them in the 15K.

      Remember the 15k uses UltraSPARC III's rather than the UltraSPARC II's. And the newer UltraSPARC II's have mirrored ecache to take care of that problem. I do believe the UltraSPARC III's also have that same set up. But when the chips are down, I'd rather have the box crash to maintain data intregrity rather than spew garbage (can we say the floating point bug in the Intel Pentium?). But I think you summed it up best by saying "These are workhorse processors, not sports-car style processors."
    • It's not like you can slap it on your Visa card

      Speak for yourself :0)
  • 8+ years of Solaris admin experience available.

Today is a good day for information-gathering. Read someone else's mail file.