Sun's memory problems persist

By Jaikumar Vijayan, Computer World |  Hardware

SOME USERS OF Sun Microsystems' UltraSPARC servers continue to have problems with a defective memory component several months after a senior Sun executive said the company was close to declaring "complete victory" over the nagging issue.

But Sun and analysts last week insisted that the company has made significant progress in addressing the problem.

The defect is in an external memory cache on Sun's UltraSPARC II microprocessors. Under certain conditions, the problem has been triggering system failures and frequent reboots at dozens of customer locations worldwide for more than 18 months.

Sun has acknowledged that it has been grappling with the defect for some time. But in an interview with Computerworld in August, Sun Executive Vice President John Shoemaker said the company was close to fixing the problem with a "mirrored-cache" technology that was due in October.

Sun also said it had "cache-scrubber" patches and various environmental recommendations that should have alleviated the situation for users.

"The kernel scrubber software is shipping, the best practices are in place, and we've begun shipping mirrored [memory] where they are needed to achieve satisfactory uptime," a Sun spokesman said in an e-mail to Computerworld.

But some users quoted in Computerworld's Aug. 28 story said last week that their situation had not changed at all, despite having tried some of Sun's suggestions.

In fact, a major utility in the western United States is asking Sun to take back three of its midrange servers, collectively valued at more than $500,000, because of Sun's continuing inability to resolve the problem.

"The decision was made following the long history of problems, pseudo-fixes, and evasions by the Sun representatives," said a user at the utility who requested anonymity.

The utility company will continue to use Sun servers for Web-based applications, but it has moved the database application that was running on the Sun servers to a Compaq Computer Unix server.

Norman Morrison, an independent project consultant working at a service provider that hosts Web sites for companies that sell sporting goods, said he is another unhappy customer. "To date, we have gotten no satisfaction on this problem," despite continuing server crashes and attempts to fix them," he said.

Less than a month ago, the service provider bought several new Sun servers, one of which has already begun crashing because of memory-related issues, Morrison said. Because the service provider uses Sun servers for all its production and development applications, Sun is pretty much locked in as its vendor, he added.

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