The Sun Enterprise 250 is a midrange deskside or rackmount server produced by Sun Microsystems in the late 1990s, intended for general purpose server uses. It was one of Sun's more successful servers, and a large number of them are still in service today.
- Production dates: 1998-2003, officially replaced by the Sun Fire 280R in 2001, but continued in production as a low-cost alternative for quite some time.
- Application architecture: sun4
- System architecture: sun4u
- Processor: 2 UltraSPARC-II at 300, 360, 400 or 450MHz. The E250 was nearly always equipped with the 4MB-cache versions, but the 2MB variants do work.
- RAM: 32 DIMM sockets, maximum of 8GB RAM, upgradeable in groups of 4.
- Graphics: Normally none. 6 PCI slots are available.
- PCI graphics options: Sun PGX32, PGX64, XVR-100, Expert3D Lite, XVR-500, XVR-600. TechSource Raptor GFX various PCI cards. Some other PCI graphics cards may work under operating systems other than Solaris, but do not have boot support.
- Floppy: Bay for standard Sun-type 1.44MB or 2.88MB floppy, usually unoccupied.
- Hard Drives: 6 SCA bays for Ultra SCSI disks, either 1" or 1.6" variants will fit.
- Audio capabilities: None. PCI sound cards are available.
- 2 5 1/4" drive bay, usually occupied by a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive. Most SCSI CD-RW and DVD+-RW drives work.
- 1 3 1/2" drive bays. Floppy or LS-120 drive may be already installed.
- 6 PCI slots, 3 64-bit/66MHz, 3 64-bit/33MHz.
- External ports:
- Sun keyboard/mouse port
- 1 PC-style parallel port
- 2 RS232 high-speed serial port, DB25 female (230kbps maximum)
- 1 RJ45 Fast Ethernet port (Sun HME)
- 1 RJ45 and one DB-25 female serial ports for lights-out management
- 68-pin Wide Ultra SCSI, separate bus from internal disk cage.
What the Enterprise 250 did, and what it can do now
The Enterprise 250 was designed as an entry-level or mid-range server for enterprise LAN environments. It was also marketed for internet services and for visualization and imaging. Sun made the machine sufficiently expandable and general-purpose that it found uses in almost every serious kind of server application. They were used, and continue to be used, as firewalls, web servers, DNS, mail and time servers. Their large amount of storage also made them good file and database servers. Nowadays, they continue to be useful for almost all their original purposes. They can also be modified to be workstations, if rather loud and heavy ones.
So, what operating systems can it run?
Solaris was the original OS for the E250. Most shipped with 2.5.1 or 2.6, but all versions up to Solaris 10 work, as does Solaris Express, supporting all features of the hardware. Linux is another solid choice, supporting almost all of the hardware, and certainly being quite suitable for server applications. NetBSD and FreeBSD support it, too. So does OpenBSD. Recent versions have added SMP support, which was previously the greatest drawback to OpenBSD on this platform.
All in all, Solaris, Linux and FreeBSD are the best choices for server usage. If you want to use it as a workstation, then FreeBSD is no longer so strong a choice, and only Solaris properly supports the later graphics cards like the Expert3D-lite or the XVR-500.
Finding one, and how much you should expect to pay.
As a lot of E250s are still in service, these tend to command higher prices than hardware specs alone would suggest. They can be somewhat hard to come by, too, and even if you do find one inexpensively, their large size and weight will make shipping expensive. That said, a well-configured E250 can still be had for well under US$1000.
The Enterprise 250 is a really good way to get some serious business-grade iron for relatively little money. It makes a rather good server for almost any purpose you care to put it to, and with its array of disk bays, it can make a very nice home storage server, especially when combined with ZFS. The biggest catch is that these machines are large and very heavy, and aren't a good choice if you want an unobtrusive server.