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Sun Microsystems

Of the Love of Oldtimers - Dusting Off a Sun Fire V1280 Server 281

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the mine-bitcoins-while-heating-your-home dept.
vikingpower writes "Today, I decided to acquire a refurbished Sun Fire V1280 server, with 8 CPUs. The machine will soon or may already belong to a certain history of computing. This project is not about high-performance computing, much more about lovingly dusting off and maintaining a piece of hardware considered quirky by 2013 standards. And Now the question creeps to mind: what software would Slashdotters run on such a beast, once it is upgraded to 12 procs and, say, 24 GiB of RAM ?"
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Of the Love of Oldtimers - Dusting Off a Sun Fire V1280 Server

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  • by Hsien-Ko (1090623) on Monday February 11, 2013 @10:15PM (#42867967)
    and eight of them at that!!!
    • by epyT-R (613989)

      those where the days..

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 11, 2013 @10:15PM (#42867969)

    It doesn't seem too long ago 8 Ultrasparcs and 12GB of RAM was the shit. It must really hurt to pull that invoice from 2005 out...

    • by rudy_wayne (414635) on Monday February 11, 2013 @10:24PM (#42868033)

      WTF?

      "The Sun Fire server brand was a series of server computers introduced in 2001".

      You think something from 2001 is old? What are you? 12?

      • by TWX (665546) on Monday February 11, 2013 @10:38PM (#42868131)
        Heh. My desktop PC is dual 3.2GHz Xeon based on an ASUS PC-DL Deluxe board from ten years ago. It's the most stable computer I've ever owned, even though it spends most of its time booted into Windows XP rather than Linux, and its hardware suspend mode means that when I'm not using it it's not consuming gobs of power.

        The only thing that would prevent me from using a Sun like the submitter describes would be the power requirements. I probably wouldn't use the computer to its extent that justifies the power costs to run it.

        The computer I'm typing this on is a Dell Latitude D410, which is eight years old. It's normally the shop computer, but works just fine for general computing. It's a lot faster than the much newer netbook, and the keyboard is loads better.

        I guess I've graduated from newest/latest/greatest to just wanting computers that do what I want them to do. I get a lot of gear from local surplus dealers, as I don't feel a need to spend more money than I have to for a given result. If the Core2Duo HP in the entertainment center runs XBMC at full 1080p then it's adequate and won't be changed out until it's no longer good enough.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @12:40AM (#42868673)

          The only thing that would prevent me from using a Sun like the submitter describes would be the power requirements. I probably wouldn't use the computer to its extent that justifies the power costs to run it.

          This is the real problem with old hardware like that. In the not so distant past we had a wall of obsolete HPUX workstations, which while being decent at number crunching, were simply outclassed by new Intel machines (literally it was a wall - 3high by many wide, they stack well). I considered ways of converting them into some kind of compute farm, but they simply weren't worth the air conditioning or power required to run them (not to mention space). Power efficiency has so vastly improved in recent years that for compute tasks it just isn't worth it to keep old hardware like that running.

          • by White Flame (1074973) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @02:28AM (#42869027)

            This is the real problem with old hardware like that.

            In contrast, many retro home computers take very little power. A Commodore 64 with an old inefficient linear regulator based power supply still only drew up to 15W from the wall.

            • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @05:31AM (#42869663) Journal
              15W is still quite a lot, for what it does. A vaguely modern mobile phone or even something like a Raspberry Pi can emulate a C64 with under 1W of power draw, and will have HDMI so you can drive a TFT without having to power an ADC to generate the digital picture.
            • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

              The mid to late 90s were the era of brute force in computing. Many clever ideas came along - tile rendering GPUs, smart new CPU architectures, complex hardware accelerated audio DSPs. All of them lost out to just adding more megahertz, more cache, more heat and power consumption.

              On the server side everything was focused on big, powerful machines instead of lots of smaller distributed ones.

              It wasn't until the mid 2000s that that energy efficient computing started to matter again.

            • by necro81 (917438)

              A Commodore 64 with an old inefficient linear regulator based power supply still only drew up to 15W from the wall.

              Perhaps, but that C64 can be duplicated/emulated with a low-end ARM processor - with appropriate connections to a keyboard, tape drive, disk drive, monitor, etc. - on a PCB that draws maybe 1 W. The inefficiencies in the wall wart may well be greater than the power consumed by the computer.

              Alternately, there are c64 emulators for iOS, Android, etc. that, in effect, give you the keyboard (

        • by mstrjon32 (542309)
          My home server is a 12-year-old Power Mac G4 533mhz that I bought brand new in 2001. I've stuffed it with over 9TB of disks and the RAM is maxed out (at an amusing 1.5GB), but other than that it's as it was when it was new. It works better than any consumer grade off-the-shelf NAS you can buy today, and there's no reason to replace something that works just fine.
          • by Nossie (753694) <IanHarvie@4[ ]el ... t ['Dev' in gap]> on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @03:00AM (#42869117)

            and what's the comparison of power usage compared to your maxed out G4 and a consumer grade NAS?

          • by Bert64 (520050) <bert@slaSLACKWAR ... com minus distro> on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @04:26AM (#42869407) Homepage

            Those powermac G4 actually support 2gb of ram (4x 512mb), the official spec says 1.5 because that's all OS9 could use and in those days not many people would actually have that much.

      • by somenickname (1270442) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @12:20AM (#42868587)

        It may not be that old but, it's definitely of nostalgic value for a lot of people. 12 cores isn't mindblowing these days but, in 2001, cramming 12 processors (not 12 cores) into a single rack mountable computer was a very impressive feat. I worked at Sun in the late 90s and I'd love to own some brand new gear from that era because, in those days, Sun was doing really impressive things with hardware in an exciting time. It's like wanting to own a muscle car. It's probably not that fast, it handles like garbage, it uses too much gas, etc. But, damn, it's cool.

      • by Necron69 (35644)

        Heh. 'Old' was the Sparcstation IPX I had until a couple of years ago. http://www.obsolyte.com/sun_ipx/ [obsolyte.com]

        Really old would be the 486 I first ran Linux on back in the early 90s.

        These young whippersnappers don't know old. :)

        Necron69

    • by red crab (1044734) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @12:28AM (#42868621)
      I concur, this machine isn't old at all by Slashdot Unix Graybeard Users standards. What should i call my HP-UX PA-RISC B2000 workstation after reading this story; manufactured somewhere around BC?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I ran a Sun Sparc 2 until 2007. Had it loaded up with 96 MB of memory. I was using it as a DNS and qmail server. It was running fine when I took it down. I just didn't want to support a 16 year old machine.

        I still run a 40 year old Linn LP-12 belt-drive turntable. Not because it's "vintage". No. I run it because it's a damn good turntable and you can't buy anything better today without paying $2000 or more.

        • by Damouze (766305)

          I ran a Sun Sparc 2 until 2007. Had it loaded up with 96 MB of memory. I was using it as a DNS and qmail server. It was running fine when I took it down. I just didn't want to support a 16 year old machine.

          I still run a 40 year old Linn LP-12 belt-drive turntable. Not because it's "vintage". No. I run it because it's a damn good turntable and you can't buy anything better today without paying $2000 or more.

          Not that a brand-new LP12 is less expensive. The entry level model is priced at about $5500 if I'm not mistaken.

    • by Rockoon (1252108) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @12:43AM (#42868691)
      I've got post-it notes on my desk older than this thing.

      Still havent called mom.
    • by mwvdlee (775178) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @01:41AM (#42868871) Homepage

      Anybody still running a WinXP computer (I still have one) is running older stuff than this server.

      This V1280 should still make an excellent webserver by today's standards. Heck, it should still be superior to a lot of current hardware.

      Also, I don't quite see what's quirky about it. It's basically low-end Sun hardware without anything particularly special about it. If anything, it's the least special of all Sun hardware since it lacks the special features of it's more expensive cousins.

    • by CAIMLAS (41445) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @02:54AM (#42869105) Homepage

      Indeed. We just got a chassis of roughly the same footprint for a customer; there is 524GB of RAM available per "blade", of which there are 6.

      Honestly, I have a hard time seeing this as that old. It wasn't that long ago that 2GB of RAM was still considered a huge amount for a common server, either - not anything you'd see in a large budget environment, but certainly commonplace.

      Personally, I've got equipment predating this millennium which is not only still plugged in and powered, but in actual regular use and continues to do its job just fine. The power bill from it is not as bad as one might think. And I'm not -that- old. 2001 certainly doesn't seem like something for an 'oldtimer', not unless you were already past mid-career at the time... we sysadmins have a pretty decent shelf life, vs. a programmer.

      Kids these days...

      (The pre-millennium system in question is a ULV-style 733MHz P3 Cely with 512MB of RAM and an 80GB IDE drive - a Compaq iPAQ desktop, a last ditch effort to remain relevant by Compaq. In all honesty, it was a good and under-appreciated effort. It's been running Debian since 2000, uninterrupted but upgraded to the latest without issues. It uses 36 watts of power under load (markedly less than a 2nd gen Atom or a Bobcat, I might add), has a parallel port and a real serial port with good port timing. It is more responsive over SSH and for basic home server silliness than either the Bobcat or Atom as well.)

      A decade is a long time in computing, yes; but the modern systems we run are, in many ways, an exercise in self-perpetuation. (If it wasn't for the exponential RAM capacity we've run into along side CPU capability, there's absolutely no way we'd be offshoring half of what we are to India. Our systems wouldn't be able to run their shit code.)

  • Linux (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 11, 2013 @10:17PM (#42867985)

    I work for a recycling center, and we sell some of our stuff we get on ebay, got a few smaller sunfires in, Debian works GREAT on SPARC machines, its still active, and everything works OOB

    • by Anonymous Coward

      > Debian works GREAT on SPARC64 machines

      Go try it with a real vintage sparc32 box and see where you land. Sparc32, specifically SMP, has been broken since 2.2.19, and UP support has been unstable for most of 2.4 and 2.6

      I have however heard that netbsd 6.0 or 6.0.1 had sparc32 smp support fixed after all these years, but it's hearsay and not mentioned in the sparc arch changelog.

  • Hmm. (Score:3, Funny)

    by smegfault (2001252) on Monday February 11, 2013 @10:22PM (#42868017)
    All maxed out it might just be able to run the newest Ubuntu.
    • Erm I just installed Ubuntu on a crappy 2001 vintage Dell laptop and it works just fine.
      I'm using it without a GUI which helps but it could handle Gnome/KDE flawlessly.

      Woo 512mb ram and 802.11b wifi.

  • Free software. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 11, 2013 @10:23PM (#42868027)

    Many free software projects are not regularly tested on anything other than x86.
    Make your system available for free software developers and you will be sure to have
    the loag average of 30 or more. Ghostscript project, for instance, would greatly benefit
    from testing on minority platforms.

  • by TemperedAlchemist (2045966) on Monday February 11, 2013 @10:27PM (#42868063)

    Minecraft!

  • shutdown -h now (Score:2, Redundant)

    by blang (450736)

    global warming, man.
    But if you insist on running somethnig, dtrace is a wonderful thing,
    or extract all of /proc/ every minute and stick into rrd.
    make 12 solaris containers all monitoring each other.

  • I still have a Sun SparcStation 20 with 2 SM71s in my closet with SunOS on it.

    Until last year, I had the IPC on an AUI adapter on a nonprofit network I manage acting as a public terminal.

    And yet it's funny how even post-2000 machines have already become so obsolete as to be silly, especially in the server space.

    • by DarthBart (640519)

      I want a Sparcstation ELC to run as a serial console/network admin console in my server room.

      And for a while I had a Sparc20 with a pair of dual Ross Hypersparc-150s and 512MB of RAM. Stupid fast for a Sparc machine, but you could cook an egg on the chassis.

    • by thogard (43403)

      I've got a few SPARCStation 20s that can replace the servers running the core business. Sure they aren't fast but they can still do the job. I think they are about 19 years old. I also have a pair of SPARCServer 1000 that could take over loads they use so much power they are only good as space heater or if I need a power supply to jump start a car. There was a time when my web site was running on a SPARCStation 1

  • those buggers may be redundant, but if one goes you're still up shit creek.

    also, one of them went splodey in my old boss' face one time. i can't say i was too upset about it.

  • OS? (Score:4, Informative)

    by CapeBretonBarbarian (512565) on Monday February 11, 2013 @10:36PM (#42868117)

    For OS I personally would stay in the Solaris realm. I'd try out the the open source Ilumos/Opendiana based distribution that Martin Bochnig has been working on :

    http://opensxce.org

    Speaking of labours of love, Martin's one man effort to port the open source fork of Solaris back to the SPARC platform would be a good fit.

  • by fak3r (917687) on Monday February 11, 2013 @10:37PM (#42868127) Homepage
    I've run Debian on Ultra 1 and Ultra 5. OpenBSD is another option, I ran it on the Ultra 5 to run as a fw for a time.
  • Use it to create some cool 3D animations. You could possibly set up the system to render using all the CPUs.
  • Not only do I still run Netra X1s (similar vintage) in production (DNS, low volume SMTP) I also take pride in using a Cobalt Raq2+ at home for DHCP and local DNS. I also have a vintage Ultra 2, Ultra 5 and Blade 100 I could dust off for work if they weren't power hogs compared to the Raq 2+.

  • Needs lots of power (Score:5, Informative)

    by hawguy (1600213) on Monday February 11, 2013 @10:52PM (#42868221)

    Hope you don't pay much for your electricity, fully populated and busy, that server is going to draw around 3000W [oracle.com] of power.

    With that power draw, if you're paying $0.12/KWh for electricity, it would cost around $250/month to keep it powered, not including cooling costs.

    • by foobsr (693224)
      $0.12/KWh

      I would pay $0.36/KWh in tree-hugging Euroland (Germany). Imagine.

      CC.

  • The other day my company was tossing out some huge server looking thing. They said I could have it if I wanted, it was a huge disc array. It was the size of a small car. So I asked how much space that monster had... 1 Terabyte... no thanks. Some stuff should just go in the landfill.

  • by decora (1710862) on Monday February 11, 2013 @10:57PM (#42868255) Journal

    they will stick Debian on it and people will use it to port free software.

    they do have a sunfire but it's almost out of disk space and there are tons of people using it already.

  • Don't open too many tabs with just 24 GiB

  • Dusting off? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by HockeyPuck (141947) on Monday February 11, 2013 @11:01PM (#42868273)

    Yeesh, and here I thought you'd have found a Sparc Center 2000 or other old sun boxes. Perhaps something that ran SunOS and not Solaris... or something newer with SBUS like an e4500...

    It's not old if it has multiple cores.

  • by Virtucon (127420) on Monday February 11, 2013 @11:03PM (#42868279)

    Run Space Heater Linux Distro. It will warm up the basement just fine.

  • Antique? (Score:4, Informative)

    by asaul (98023) on Monday February 11, 2013 @11:15PM (#42868333)

    We still have a V1280 in production (despite my best efforts to get rid of it), in fact I am sure we have an E3000 and some E450s somewhere in the place that somehow runs part of the network in a way no-one understands.

    • gradual phase-out (Score:4, Informative)

      by mcrbids (148650) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @01:54AM (#42868919) Journal

      When you run into this situation, the trick is to understand what the server actually does for end users and the answer is largely non-deterministic. So what you do is you write a network of cron jobs that take it "offline" for an hour a day, where that hour advances throughout the day.

      After a week, increase the hour to 2 hours, and so on. If anybody is actually using said server, the complaints will shortly come out and you can then do a needs assessment.

      When you get somewhere past 6/5 (6 hours per day, 5 days per week) you are pretty much ready to shut it down. And when you shut it down, keep it on hand "dark" for at least a year just in case.

      Lastly, UPDATE YOUR FRIGGEN ADMIN LOGS because stuff like this is really a sign of gross incompetence at updating the logs.

      • by decora (1710862) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @02:17AM (#42869001) Journal

        If you work at a financial institituion, this is the kind of s**** that will lose millions of dollars.

        There are a lot of things that only come up quarterly, or yearly, and things where the effects wont be known until months or years later.

        so if someone does task X on February 15 but it doesnt show on a report until July, and then you shut it off on Feb 16th, that means it will be over a year before anyone finds out.

        • by girlinatrainingbra (2738457) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @03:20AM (#42869169)
          mod parent up! Nobody considers the problem of quarterly and annual recurring data batch runs!!! You would be totally screwed up expecting your server to be available an d it turns out to be down just because someone monitored it over a 6-8 week period which just happened to miss the beginning or end of the quarterly reports, eh?
        • by mcrbids (148650)

          If you work at a financial institution and you have an undocumented process managing millions of dollars running on an unmaintained server, the problem extends much, much deeper than what to do with said undocumented, unmaintained server.

          Quit, and find someplace that has some respect for its staff. The best you can accomplish in this environment is to stress yourself out beyond reason.

          The years off the end of your life simply aren't worth it.

    • by blang (450736)

      Just beware of HW and software support cost.
      Some 10 years ago, after my company had been through a few years of crazy growth, someone decided to look at cost. Turns out that more than half of our machine park, mostly leased Sun servers, and some HP, and even a couple of Compaq Alpha servers was hardly used, and maintenance cost (and leases) cost us tons of money every year, A quick project to convert all leases to purchases, and decommission everything else saved our company some $2 million per year.
      The 4-5

  • by Weaselmancer (533834) on Monday February 11, 2013 @11:24PM (#42868359)

    I own some old stuff. An Amiga 2000, a C64, an Apple IIe, a Macintosh se/30. I maintain them because they were a part of my childhood. I have an emotional connection to these machines. Someday (I am watching) I will buy the digital microvax my old university used for their comp labs if I can. Loved that box. Spent days on it. I'll own an original Defender cabinet someday too.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is why? You have no connection to this machine. You won't get nostalgic when you see it boot. Why bother?

    • by Curlsman (1041022)
      Watch for various VAXen on ebay for just a couple of hundred, though sometimes comp.os.vms will have someone giving something away. Then free OpenVMS licenses and software through the Hobbyist Program, http://www.openvmshobbyist.com/news.php [openvmshobbyist.com]
    • by erice (13380)

      I own some old stuff. An Amiga 2000, a C64, an Apple IIe, a Macintosh se/30. I maintain them because they were a part of my childhood. I have an emotional connection to these machines. Someday (I am watching) I will buy the digital microvax my old university used for their comp labs if I can. Loved that box. Spent days on it. I'll own an original Defender cabinet someday too.

      I guess what I'm trying to say is why? You have no connection to this machine. You won't get nostalgic when you see it boot. Why bother?

      You don't actually know that. Just because the OP did not own this machine at the time does not mean he didn't use one or even just want one back then. Putting aside the obvious impracticalities, I think it would be really cool to have a Vax 11/750 at home. I have never owned one but I did lightly use one in the 80s. The important part though, is that in it's heyday, the Vax 11/750 was held up as the lusted after prototype of what desktop computers were to become.

      Sparc pizza box machines from the time w

  • The thing about systems is that you generally shouldn't need to think very hard to find a use for them, unless you have too many systems. You either buy systems to meet your needs, or you have standing needs that will tell you what to run on the thing.

    Anyhow, the V1280 isn't an antique by any means. It was a really really nice piece of hardware when it was released, and I think that was just 3 or 4 years ago.

  • We just upgraded an 'ancient' dell 2950 from a Xeon (core architecture) 1.6 ghz to 3.2 ghz. 2 gb to 16 gb RAM...a 7 year old server that would stomp most desktop machines lights out (save for the graphics card....but then again, that's not what a server is typically for.) 15k RPM 600gb hdd...yeaaah..:D
  • Ensure cc is installed, then you can enjoy realtime multiprocessing programming.
  • You're going to need some bigger power cords [oracle.com]:

    The Sun Fire V1280 system is supplied with four detachable power cords:
    Voltage: 200 to 240 VAC
    Circuit breakers - North America (4): 15A to 20A
    Inrush Current: 18A after 100 microseconds
    Surge Current: After 5ms brown-out short term surge is higher at 75A
    Power Consumption: 3300W max

  • Text based games. The quake server sounds good too.

  • I'd run Oracle RDBMS on it, say 11.2.0.3.

    Then I'd call your friendly, local, Oracle sales rep and ask for a quote for a 12 processor Oracle DB server.

  • Many software licenses are based on physical CPU. With 8 CPUs that thing could cost a fair bit to legally run certain software...

  • Any software will do really. Something CPU intensive would be best but even in idle mode that server will use several orders of magnitude more power than a modern server with the same capability.

    Put it in your living room and use it as a heater.

    - Jesper

  • You're reminding me that I haven't fired up my SPARCcenter 2000E and associated RAID cabinets in far too long.

  • Put it in a closet. If you have visitors, proudly show it to them. Leave it at that.

    Running this thing is irresponsible.

  • Thats one of the more recent sparc servers, there shouldnt be much of a problem.
  • My mousepad is older than this server.

    Seriously, I use a mousepad from an SGI Indigo. 7 or 8 years ago I had 14 of them at my disposal. Those are old. This, this is just a waste of electricity.

  • Back in the day I got a fully loaded Sun Enterprise 450 with 4 of the fastest CPU's, 4GB of ram and 20 SCSI disks. It had 3 NICS each with 4 sockets, 3 power supplies and even 2 fiber connections. It felt like every geeks dream come true and I had big plans on what to do with it.

    Then I turned it on... The thing sounded like an aeroplane taking off. I knew it would be loud, but this thing was just ridiculous. It took up quite a lot of space, so putting it in a data-center would have been very expensive. Fo

  • Let it go... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by techsoldaten (309296) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @03:00AM (#42869115) Journal

    Yeah, the server may be impressive by some people's standards, but it's going to be outclassed by newer / faster machines. Just don't get too attached.

    The school my daughter attended got rid of a bunch of old 486s in 2001, which I brought home to build a beowulf cluster. Networked 32 of the things into a single, massive computer with all this computing power... it was the most exciting thing I had done in a while.

    It was fascinating thinking I could do such a thing, but there were all these issues: fuses started blowing / the air was so dry my lips were chapping / the power bill went up by 400 dollars that month / hardware would mysteriously die and screw up the whole cluster / there was no software support / it took up an entire room in the house / my dog kept peeing on the machines at the bottom / etc.

    Still, I was able to turn it into the world's most computationally expensive, clunky web server. It was outstanding for local development, but it was impossible to get it to work with the router for external network access.

    It was hard to get rid of it, the machines were in my house for 2 years until I decided to move and had to leave them behind. It's so easy to get attached to obsolete machinery because of that personal connection to it.

    Seriously, give your wife a safe word for when it's time to break ties with the thing. Ultimately, it is cool, but it's either going to become an unhealthy obsession or a thing on your shelf.

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