FREE SERVER (v2.0) – Honest!

A while back, I announced we’d start making servers available for free trial – the objective wasn’t to terrify financial analysts, although I’m certain a few gripped their chest, but instead to drive awareness among customers that hadn’t been exposed to Sun. And free seemed like the right price to drive adoption among developers (honestly, we’re not too worried about folks who elect not to buy failing to return a $5,000 server (we cover postage both ways)).

The program started off slowly – partly due to internal disbelief (there’s a long story, there), but secondarily, our focus group feedback suggested no one believed we’d actually send them a free Niagara. So let me reiterate: go to, fill out the form, we’ll send you the fastest server on earth, absolutely free. If you don’t like it, we’ll send someone to pick it up.

We were also serious about the following: if you write a blog that fairly assesses the machine’s performance (positively or negatively), send us a pointer, we’re likely to let you keep the machine. (And before you ask, the marketing team makes the decision about what qualifies for the promotion, not I – although I know they love drama, charts, and compelling competitive analyses.)

The first reaction most folks have to the performance is, frankly, disbelief. A while back I got into a spat with the technologists that built the machine about whether we could fairly call them 9.6Ghz machines (as a measure of clock frequency of the chip). Paul Murphy has an interesting analysis of whether that’s a fair descriptor (I say interesting because he says we’re underhyping the performance – a first for the industry!).

Here’s a sample benchmark, (and discussion, too). If you look at the SPEC benchmarks (the column titled “Result”), it’s also validated by a neutral body. I’m thinking we should rename Sun to AAA_Sun so our name appears first in the SPEC list.

I had the privilege of making a cameo appearance today at David Berlind’s MashUp Unconference – a fascinating experiment to invite a bunch of people interested in a given topic to a conference, charge them nothing, let them create the agenda on the fly at the conference, and have folks like Sun (and other companies) pick up the tab – an inversion of the traditional conference business model. I got to give a Niagara (without obligation to return) to what was voted the most popular Mashup – Taylor McKnight, the individual who received the machine, looked quite pleased – but asked a legitimate question: “how do I get this on the plane?”

Given that the machine is classified as a munition by the US Government, it was a perfectly legitimate question. It probably wouldn’t make it past airport security (or into an overhead cabin). So yes, we’re covering postage.

Taylor, I’m hoping you’ll write a blog about your experience with the system (once it arrives :)… you are, after all, the target demographic.


Filed under General

43 responses to “FREE SERVER (v2.0) – Honest!

  1. Hello,
    I was wondering: how should one benchmark? Should we use regular benchmarks? Or can it be any program we are prepared to try porting to Solaris?
    I am doing research which involves quite a lot of simulations and as such we are always looking at better computing performance. Is this a valid benchmark? Or should it be something else?
    I know it those are a lot of questions. They arise from disbelief that this is possible, altough I believe the URL I am looking at!
    (Should this question be invalid please feel free to remove it from the comments)

  2. x

    Smells of desperation…
    First, they try to sell it to you. Then they give it away for free. And then… you never hear about it again.
    With apologies to Gandhi 🙂

  3. bp

    Excellent initative !
    Sadly, despite what you stated there (“honestly, we’re not too worried about folks who elect not to buy failing to return a $5,000 server (we cover postage both ways)”), the “Try and Buy
    Agreement” says (section 5.3.d):
    “Upon the termination of this Exhibit or an attached Appendix for any reason,
    except purchase of the Loaned Products under Section 6, herein, Company
    shall immediately terminate use of the Loaned Products, and within five (5)
    business days, return the Loaned Products at Company’s expense to Sun. “.
    So unfortunally, as a simple mere developer, I won’t take the risk of
    a deception (and the cost of the subsequent transatlantic re-expedition):
    I know for sure our next Linux/x86 purchased server won’t be an excellent
    surprise -performance wise- but at least, being accustomed to this we’re
    sure about the minimal load it can handle (yes, too litle Sparc exposure, still). Or is the TBA up to date ?
    Anyway, keep those nices initiatives, so with enough fair press coverage and
    public comparisons, the next time we (x86 weenies) will be more confident 🙂

  4. OK dude. It’ll be interesting to see if you guys actually send the thing.

  5. Gustavo Chaves

    So bad Brazil isn’t in the valid countries list. I was so excited…


    Specifically, I’m wanting to look at a couple things:
    1. ZFS – sounds like the greatest thing ever, but now we’ll know. I’m actually more interested in it long term as a distributed file system, which I don’t believe it currently can do. But I’ll let you know.
    2. Ruby and Rails – let’s see if I can run some performance tests of some sort. Focusing on the stuff we all do, database driven, AJAX intensive, big databases. Additionally, any configuration issues with getting a Rails system on a Sun box ready for production.

  7. What puts me off is the pre-qualifying bit. We don’t have any applications that run on Solaris 10. Like many SMEs we have a mixture of Windows servers doing file and email stuff, and Linux servers doing specialist stuff like web filtering. Solaris is a bit out of our skillset (though I know *nixes share a lot of DNA).
    If you supplied it with Linux on it, and didn’t ask for prequalifying we might be interested.

  8. JWW

    OK, so I took the plunge and went ahead and applied. We’re a B2B company that helps Microsoft Windows shops integrate Open Source applications into their networks to realize the benefit of ROI/Cost savings that OSS/FOSS gives.
    I have long maintained that Sun hardware/Solaris was the ‘next generation’ to bring to our customers. We’ll have to see if that’s the case. If it works out and we like our trials, I can definitely see making this a premier offering. The benefits that Solaris (especially on Sun hardware) provides with the Java Enterprise System are exciting.
    *I’ll* be excited to see how it plays out in the real world.
    I’m excited!
    UnEqua-Tsi Networks

  9. Denis Mirovitch

    This “internal disbelief” as you put it has frustrated our attempt to get the box. We tried getting our hands on a T2000 box for over 2 months, until we simply gave up. We filled out the form *serveral* times, didn’t even get a reply or a simple acknowledgment email. We then called the 1-800 number, we were told the process involved approvals at *several* levels in the sales organization and that someone will call us shorty. We were also told that due to “overwhelming demand”, even they didn’t know if/when we could get the box. We never heard back, needless to say Sun has a long way to go in customer service. We’ve gone back to Dell.

  10. Brian Smith

    The application process is kind of discouraging–I filled out everything and I didn’t even get an email or any response saying that my application was being processed. I received an application code (TBWEB_c99f4b5c-a859-47e6-9de2-255b627be9cd) but I thought I saw an error message right before the code came up, and I didn’t receive any email verifying that my application was being processed. How long does it normally take to receive a an email regarding this trial program?

  11. Mike Piazza

    Wow Johnathan, looks like you have a lot of issues with your sales force. I read a lot of frustration in these comments. If you cant provide the customer service you will never climb out of the hole you guys have dug. It’s time for you to shake the tree and get rid of the stale fruit. It’s all about sales through customer satisfaction. Lets see the Sun shine again! You’ve got the produc, lets deliver the service.

  12. Jonathan:
    Well, it’s good news you’ll allow a fairly documented reviewer to keep the system. Unfortunately in my case, even though I asked for the T1 system long ago (maybe the same day it was introduced in public, I’ll have to check) I still have not received my evaluation unit.
    Problem is I registered with SUN.COM which for some reason relayed my data to a distributor in Mexico, who then took on all the process of getting my qualification data, querying me about our test plan, the dates, my company’s profile… the works.
    We wanted the system to evaluate its performance against our current crop of USIII and USIV servers, as well as against or hodgepodge of Intel based servers which handle everything from mission critical databases to plain infrastructure duties, as well as to try out the included Solaris 10’s capabilities in an environment free of the constraints that our production boxes impose (since it is production we can’t afford to try much new stuff ‘less we risk breaking a few things).
    It was then back an forth with dates, the system had to come from the US, it was almost here… now it’s really almost here…
    Then, all of a sudden, when this guy in Mexico was “really, really getting ready” to deliver the system to us he realized that – oops! – my company already had contact with Sun distributors Netrix and Soluziona, here in Monterrey and therefore he was not allowed to handle my free trial opportunity, so it all fell down to nothing.
    I’ve already emailed our local Sun rep (not the distributor, but the SUN employee) with the story but I wonder… will we really be able to make good on the free trial offer while the Niagara is still “new”? Will I have the chance to write down a review in time to get my free server? I wonder…
    BTW, I’d like to profit from the opportunity for congratulating the company for the new directions it’s taken as of late. New servers (Galaxy and Niagara), new workstations (Ultra series), best hardware design I’ve seen in Sun systems in a while, great open source Solaris… if only the trial were to run as smoothly.

  13. The online form has been submitted…the first blog entry has been created…let the FUN begin! 🙂

  14. That would have been nice when I opened the store (The Open Store, (a linux shop). Can I test one out for the home?) I can dream. Trade you an Sun IPX, actually no. I like the hobbs box. the only reason I bought it. I like the math problem on the bottom, but aren’t we all geeks? why now pi squared *2 /25 or something like that.

  15. I would LOVE to evaluate one of your machines on my blog. BUT, your servers are so in demand I evidentally can’t get ahold of one. Hopefully it will ship on the 28th like Sun says they will. However, these comments make me feel doubtful.
    In the meantime feel free to ship me one tomorrow. 😉
    But, really keep up the good work. We’ll be running OSS software ( to create a high performance XML router with these things. I’m excited.

  16. Anonymous

    I don’t believe it. Like others who posted above, I’ve been trying
    to get a T2000, or even ACCESS to a T2000 to try out our web app. None of Sun’s sales force has the slightest interest in talking to small customers like us (we have 6 servers running our website; we purchase about 2 per year on average). They’ve been downright snotty on the phone, like I’m wasting their time. So no thanks, I’ll stick with Dell.
    I too filled out the online form about a month ago, and never received any response from that contact.

  17. Varun

    we are developing a whole bunch of AJAX applications, and the only reason I am interested in the SunFire T2000/T1000 is that it is being ‘touted’ as being ideal for such apps. Our original plan has been cheap Dell servers, but I will be testing the Niagara line (whether you send it for free or not).
    I’ve filled out the form, but don’t run any Solaris 10 app (and am neither interested in it)….guess that disqualifies us.

  18. It’ll be nice to see what comes of this offer. I was thinking of applying and it seemed very difficult for my organization as we only have a $2000/year budget through RIT. At the Security Practices and Research Student Association we work mostly with donated hardware, alot of it Sun equipment that has been deemed as EOL. We’re looking at expanding to do some more security research, so it’s come to this, begging for hardware because we’re a student government club at a tech school. We plan on using the server for some security research in cracking algorithms that SPARSA members have created as well as operating in our OpenMosix cluster. We’re looking forward to a unit, if only for test purposes.

  19. Karthik

    Woah! that’s one heck of a server i’d really love to get my hands on.. If only India was on the list of countries…

  20. of course Italy is not listed.

  21. Brian Lee

    This is definitely a step in the right direction. This marketing campaign really took big ones to go forward with.

    The free trial is very tempting and I really hope our company will take a very low risk chance on it.

    As for the hardware, I love it but I have concerns about the software. I could be wrong but Open Solaris still isn’t out in an easy to deploy form… nor is it as easy to install apps on Solaris as it is on Linux and there doesn’t seem to be as many apps on Solaris as there are on Linux and BSD.

    Then again I’m a developer. Maybe our sys admin / ops man will see things differently.

  22. Well, I’ve applied for one for use with the company. Currently we run on a Dual Xeon 2.8GHZ (Dual 73GB SCSI 10K / 2GB ECC) as the Web Server, with two more of the same configuration running database.
    Everything has slowed down to a crawl and the new administration and client interfaces we are developing will only harm this anymore, highly multi-threaded web applications. ;_;
    We’re a Mobile Solutions firm with some fairly large clients, and I’d love to see how some Sun Hardware performs.. would make a difference from the Dell’s we were planning to buy.

  23. “go to, fill out the form, we’ll send you the fastest server on earth, absolutely free. If you don’t like it, we’ll send someone to pick it up.”
    Hi Johathan!
    We’re livung in Hungary. And we’re restricted. 😦
    trey @ Hungarian Unix Portal

  24. Well, I’ve signed up for a server. As an ex-Sun employee, I’m still very interested in the equipment and software that Sun produces. I’ve had to spend a good deal of time in the past defending Sun product vs. Intel/Linux based systems, primarily in the price point and performance categories. If this Niagara box performs as well as the benchmarks say, then Sun could very well have a winner on their hands — something that might help win sysadmin mindshare again. It seems to me that Sun’s lost that core advocacy group – the ever-embattled sysadmin. If the Niagara can do more, for less, and do it reliably, then it could indeed be a magic bullet for the company.
    If I get a review unit, I plan on putting it through its paces using the Java Enterprise System. I’m also very interested in the build quality (does it still have that magic Sun touch that the E4500s and stuff had?). I am also very curious as to the performance of the SAS disk subsystem. That’s something new to Sun, and I’m intrigued by the promise of excellent disk I/O while keeping size and power consumption down.

  25. Too bad the newer SAS SCSI drives don’t have a proper RAID controller yet. The company I work for was just about ready to get a T2000 until I found out you need a 10k storage array, worth more than the whole server.

  26. I filled out the form twice, once right after the initial announcement and once after the holidays. I never heard back either time, which is very discouraging and I’ve heard of multiple people in the same boat. This offer has a distinct feeling of vapourware.
    Nonetheless we are very very keen to trial this platform, as we run what is likely the single busiest webserver in the world ( – which handles up to 50,000 concurrent downloads) and know our benchmarking.
    So far the numbers we’ve seen people push (including Sun’s own numbers) are unimpressive, and we really want to improve on them, as well as having a Sun box for a while so that I can instrument Apache httpd for dtrace (I’m an Apache httpd committer).
    Now when I look at the revised form, Ireland is not even an option and it looks like much hoop-jumping is neccessary to participate. This is insane. I’m going to fill it in one more time, and simply lie about our location and select the UK.
    If SUN can get a box to us, we will benchmark it and push it to within an inch of its life, and produce detailed blogposts, I’ll probably even talk about it at Apachecon europe.
    My paper on Apache scalability is online at:
    and some relevant blog posts include:
    and some details on is at:
    We’re looking to replace and upgrade in the future, and a Niagara box is a strong contender, but it’s hard to consider it when the only existing benchmarks we have to go on are unfavourable. Pick up the ball!

  27. Joseph Daniel Zukiger

    I’ll join the ranks of excited, but disappointed their country isn’t in the list. (Japan)
    Thought about calling my brother in the states to see if he’d let me use his address (and his electric outlet/internet connection) so I could play games by remote, but that just seems to take the romance out of it.

  28. I need more drives, I’ve just gotten my plug’n’play redundant Andrew File Servers up.
    You can plug your Linux/XP laptop in anywhere world wide and access terabytes of data thru an encrypted connection.
    Hack Proof.
    Runs circles around Samba and MSoft

  29. Steve Smith

    Hi Jonathan,
    Conspicuously missing from your posted benchmarks are SPECint_rate2000 numbers for the CoolThreads servers. There are many integer intensive applications outside of web serving where this should work well, especially in the Life Sciences. Are we missing something here?

  30. It’s not just small companies that are beging ignored. I filled out the on-line form as soon as it was up. Talked with someone from Sun about two days later. Since then, nothing. We’d really love to test them as a Sun One Webserver platform, but without the promised hardware it’s a bit difficult.

  31. Part of this promotion’s problem with regard to blogging is that it requires a “legal company name.” The vast majority of bloggers are going to have to choose between making up a company name to get around this requirement, giving the name of the company they work for at their day job, or… incorporating their blog?
    It is hard to understand how this might work. Too bad, because I’m sure there are people who think writing about the machine’s performance would be a lot of fun.

  32. This could be very interesting. I run the server for Melbourne Wireless ( and am in the middle of recovering from yet another hardware failure. One of the things we do is to generate dynamic GIS maps to plot coverage for wifi connectivity for a community wireless network. At the moment, we have very minimal data shown as plotting realtime maps is VERY resource intensive. The current server is a Dual P3 800 with 1Gb RAM. It’s basically the best we can afford. We do some large maps once a day (and some larger ones once a week) that can take 15+ minutes to render. This is on the bare minimum detail level. We haven’t even thought of trying to overlay the sat photo data we have – or even include basics like street names due to CPU resources. Having something this grunty would allow us to do sooooo much more! I just hope it comes true. I’d really love to see how far we can push dynamic map generation with sat images on that kind of hardware 🙂

  33. Alec Munro

    I was looking at Sun’s Opteron servers for a recent server purchase, and while they were very appealing at the low end, to get what we wanted would have been fairly pricey. We are currently running dual Opterons, with a plan to upgrade to dual dual-core Opterons, as traffic increases.
    When I started reading the initial press on the Niagara servers, I practically wet my pants. But we had already made our purchase.
    We are currently running up against the limits of our single-core system, and I had already envisioned that one of these servers would be the way to go once we had maxed out the dual-core option.
    I’m fairly certain everything we run will work fine on Solaris, though I might keep the Opteron server for non-www functionality.
    Here’s hoping I get a chance to try it out.

  34. As noted above:
    I have been using Sun equipment since early 1985 and in all that time the Sun sales force has NEVER wanted to deal with someone who wasn’t going to be ordering massive amounts of product per year; they let you know in no uncertain terms that you were wasting their time!
    Until Sun sales fixes it’s snotty attitude toward small customers, x86 is going to kick Sun’s backside!
    Luckily, Solaris 10 kicks ASS on AMD and Intel boxes so getting Sun hardware is a non-issue!
    p.s. For some reason the software side of Sun has always been less snotty to deal with than the hardware side.

  35. Bruno Gervasi

    We had the fortunate opportunity to get the t2000 in for eval. At first all of our tests which we did were awful. cp, tars, compression all were not to our satisfactory. We couldn’t figure out the reason, simple tests were failing to what everyone else was saying about the the new t1. Benchmarks from Byte Unix Benchmark(BM) were ran and the result was that the T1 was an equivalent of a UII processor. After further investigating we found that the BM benchmark was not the correct benchmark to use to test the T2000. So we went back out into cyberspace and downloaded and ran the “sysbench”. This allowed us to use the multi-threads options and utilize all the threads on the system. At this time, we saw what the T2000 could do. We also ran mysql scripts in multithreads and results are what everyone else was saying about this nice machine. The more you give it the better it performs. Very good Sun, you are on the right track.

  36. I work for a small aerospace engineering and aircraft design firm. We develop the most widely used aircraft analysis software in the world. This used to be strictly a UNIX shop, with several Sun machines around and valuable contracts with Sun, but in the late 90’s almost all machines were replaced with Windows boxen. I want to get some Sun hardware back in the game for web services, file servers, and who knows what else. I applied almost two months ago for a trial server. About 20 minutes after I applied, someone from Sun called me to ask me some questions, and then I never heard anything again. Has anyone actually received a server through this promotion? I think I’m just going to fill the form out again and try my luck. I’d really like to get my hands on one of these because I have all kinds of work to throw at it and I want to see if it would perform well enough for our company.

  37. Jonathan,

    First, thanks for turning on comments.

    On this promo, a few comments:

    A. Obviously your readers aren’t all Fortune 200 hardware-purchase authorizers.

    B. You need to have a warehouse full of these servers and 10 people ready to box up/ship several hundred servers per day if you’re going to make this kind of offer. First impressions are very important.

    C. Your readers aren’t all in San Jose, CA. I suggest you ship anywhere in the world, except to those countries embargoed by the US Government (Cuba, North Korea, etc). Ireland? Come on, that where our drugs are manufactured. Japan? Bought a camera lately? They have no problems shipping to us, and we’re buying. It’s a two-way street. Open it up.

    D. These servers are not going to be benchmarked by large Global 2000 firms that get the machine through these offers. If a company has a (semi-)dedicated new-hardware team, they also have budget to buy servers. It’s the hackers, the geeks, the small-business, the consultants, the university student that are going to want to try out this machine. It’s also these people who write blogs and hack FOSS and make recommendations to clueless CIOs.

    As an aside, Todd, a friend of mine was elected last year to the Redondo Beach Board of Education (see He came to me and asked me what he should do about the school ISP (10,000 students, 100s of teachers, email, web hosting, dialup from home, dns, etc). They had old sun hardware, needed upgrading. The sysadmins were all high-school students. They wanted Apple servers. I happened to have a Director of IT friend of mine at my house too (my wife’s baby shower) and we talked to Todd. We discussed Dell, Apple, Sun. He said the Sun rep they had talked to was rude, making him feel like a small fry. We settled on Dell and FreeBSD. I saw him at Halloween: Dell+FreeBSD and everybody is Happy Happy Happy.

    The moral of my story: don’t discount the geeks and the high-school students.

    This leads me to the Sales Dept: You are a global company, selling globally. Until anyone in the world can go to your web site and order a box with a credit card, and have it delivered 2-5 business days later, Dell and others are going to keep trouncing you. You will notice that there are no salespeople involved in that transaction.You will also notice that there are no sales territories, no quotas, no “you must go through your rep” stories in my scenario.

    Your sales practices are actively hindering adoption of your products.

    Yesterday, I forwarded an email with a link to this blog entry to the VP of Data Center Services, who reports to the CIO. (I work for Health Net, Inc., a fortune 200), along with a “somebody should try this server out” note. So I did my part. But I can’t order it for the company, and I certainly can’t order it for myself to try out, so I’ll just have to read the blog of a lucky bloke to figure it the perf is worth migrating to Solaris (Debian would be So Much Better/Easier BTW.)

    I do wish you good luck on getting these into the hands of people that are going to hype and recommend it to others.

  38. Very interesting, indeed. But most interesting are the comments here.
    It concerns me that the sales force is apparently either unaware of this initiative, or actively hostile towards it. In marketing’s defense, I have to mention that we have been working with Sun on a Sun Ray and Global Secure Desktop (“desktop grid”) pilot project, and they have been super. I received test equipment, and more importantly, access to the application portal and Sun Ray server – that helps me get a proof-of-concept in front of people I would have to convince to go this route. If we’re to be successful, this sort of initiative has to be nurtured throughout Sun. I hope my experiences are favored over those of the people commenting here.
    Secondly, I think this initiative could stand a bit of shepherding with regard to the benchmarking goals. SPECmarks are meaningless in the real world. There should be some specific application testing regimens detailed that hilight exactly the benefit of “throughput computing.” Without that, reviews tend towards the “it’s a great box, too bad it doesn’t run x.”

  39. Jon,
    I cannot in good faith fill out that form, because according to your license agreement I would have to be interested in buying it in he first place. But still, y organization might be of interest to you for our blogging/review potential. Please excuse me while I whore myself out for a moment:

    I am the President of the Northern Virginia Java Users Group []. We are a 1500+ member organization in Northern Virginia. We could use such a machine for our website, email server, and for things we don’t have the server power for now, such as blogging for all of our members. I think that we could make an interesting case study/blogging potential for such a machine.
    I am the Chief Architect for an import/export control program [] funded by the U.S. Department of State [] and deployed in 9 countries. We currently use a mix of Windows servers, linux servers, and Sun E-450s running Solaris 9 (depending on locale).
    I am a Java Champion [], so I would hope that gives me a little bit more credentials in Sun’s eyes than some random crank posting to your blog.

    If you would be interested in donating one of these servers for a case study in performance sponsored by the NovaJUG, I’d love to ‘rally the troops’ and see what we could throw at it.
    Hope to hear from you,
    -David Bock

  40. Jonathan,
    I’ve filled out the form and am hoping to get a chance to try out one of these servers. I currently have a low-end server and would like to see how these servers stand up in a multi-user, isolated environment (many JVMs running simultaneously, etc). I saw your booth at RSA and was impressed with the Containers feature– looking forward to seeing that in action.
    –Michael Scovetta

  41. David Moore

    Look for now, this thing is armed and dangerous – up to 8 Cores with 4 TPUs.
    Stop whinging and just buy 1 of the F*s

  42. so did i – i filled it out because i want to get blender running on that machine for heavy 3D rendering
    it would be nice to try that
    i’m also interesting in trying out geo-applications for my work – …
    hope heavily to get tone
    Silvan Gebhardt

  43. Is the T2000 up to it?
    I’ve got an application that combines a huge database with high-volume web activity. What do you say we see how it performs?
    ps. trackbacks appear broken, each attempt fails with an HTTP 500.

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