% fortune -ae paul murphy

Comparing Sun and Dell Servers

One of the most deeply held beliefs underlying a lot of what you read in the popular press involves the idea that Wintel hardware is both cheaper and more varied than Unix hardware. Point out to the people who say this that anything capable of running a licensed Windows variant can also run a free Unix like Linux or BSD and they'll usually see their mistake -until you stop talking, then they'll go back to believing the lie. Try it, you can practically see them revert to what they know as you turn away.

Just for fun, therefore, I thought I'd use an equally simple minded metric to compare Dell's server range to Sun's.

Dell's x86 server line starts with the $1,648 PowerEdge 800 with a 2.5Ghz Celeron® processor, 2.53GHz, no OS, 256MB, and a 40GB SATA drive.

Dell x86 Range (Mhz)1 Sun x86 Range (Mhz) Sun SPARC Range (Mhz)
1Bar height = (CPUs x megahertz)/0.55; width = per CPU bandwidth, Xeon=1;))

Dell's highest end x86 server is is the PowerEdge 6850. With 32GB of RAM, dual internal controllers, Windows 2003/XP server, and a quad Xeon with 64bit extensions at 3.66Ghz, it comes in at a base price of about $35,786.

The simplest possible scale for comparing these is based on the notion that counting cycles and bandwidth means something - and on this basis the 6850 produces 4 x 3.66 = 14.64 "points". Divide that by 0.55 (because the lowest end SPARC is a 550Mhz) and you get a bar height of 26 and a cost per adjusted point of $1,376.

Sun's matching machine is the V40z model 852 at $34,495 for the four way, 32GB unit but its highest end x86 server is the model 875. With four dual core AMD 875 CPUs, 32GB, dual on board US3 controllers, and Solaris x86 pre-installed, this lists at about $45,850 to earn a bar height of 40 and a cost per point of $1,146.

Dell's non x86 server line starts and ends with the 7250. Maxed out with four Itanium 2 CPUs at 1.6Ghz this thing runs to about $68,000 and is roughly price and performance comparable to a middle of the road Sun 490.

Sun's SPARC server line starts with the $995, 550Mhz US2i V100 and goes up to the 72 CPU, 144 core, USIV Starfire 25K. With 288GB of RAM this thing lists at about $3.5 million and gets a megahertz score of 353.

The barchart tells the story.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.