How do Sun hard drives differ from non-Sun hard drives? Can I use a non-Sun disk in my Sun server?

A: The answer is “yes and no.” 🙂 Seriously, though, while it is sometimes possible to physically use non-Sun disks in Sun machines, there are a lot of “if/then/and/or” type questions you need to consider first.One of the most important things to realize is that there is a difference between what is technologically possible and what is considered “supported” from Sun’s viewpoint. In most, if not all cases, while you may be able to plug a non-Sun drive into a Sun array or a server and it may work, Sun will frown upon it. Continue reading for more details.


1) First and foremost: are your machines supported under a Sun maintenance contract?
2) Are the drives Fibre or SCSI disks?
3) Closing thoughts.

1) First a foremost: are your machines supported under a Sun maintenance contract?

If your machine is under a maintenance contract with Sun Microsystems, stop immediately. Using parts which are not what they call “Sun Original” will invalidate your maintenance contract.

Sun is notoriously unbending in it’s policies barring the use of so called “Third Party” parts – which is actually a good thing when you think about it, from a stability standpoint. It makes for an extremely stable platform when they only support and endorse the use of parts that they themselves have tested under myriad conditions.

One side note: If you have a maintenance contract with a third party support provider, you do not have to worry about exclusively using Sun Original parts. This is one of the upsides of using a third party maintenance provider; you win on at least three fronts:

  • you get to run the Sun hardware you know and love,
  • you get to save money by using third party parts,
  • and you get to save money on your maintenance contracts by going with the third party maintenance provider

2) Are the drives fibre or SCSI?

SCSI: In my experience, most of the time, third party or non-Sun SCSI disk drives will work just fine – as long as you are not mixing them in the same server with Sun drives. In other words, if disk 0 in your Sun Ultra 60 is a Sun Option# X5242A or part# 390-0050 and you put a generic, non-Sun, third party (whatever you want to call it) 36GB SCSI disk in disk 1 and try to mirror them, chances are it will NOT work. NOTE: Third party disk drives generally do NOT come with a Sun SPUD Bracket, which is the little “bracket” or “rail” that screws onto the hard drive in order to allow it to be mounted into most (not all) Sun servers. Some Sun machines take other types of brackets, so make sure you get the right kind of bracket for the server you’re trying to mount this disk into.

It’s important to note that if you’re not going to mirror the disks, it’s very likely that the Sun Original disk and the Third Party disk will play well together.

Fibre: In most, if not all cases, whenever we’ve tried to experiment with Third Party Fibre disks, we’ve met with extreme degrees of failure. While we’ve only given it a cursory glance, we believe it comes down to the Sun firmware that is loaded on Sun Original fibre disks. Unless you have copious amounts of time, money and patience I’d suggest never bothering with Third Party Fibre disks.

3) Closing thoughts.

With all this talk about Sun Original disks versus Third party you might be asking yourself: How do I know if I have a Sun Original disk? Glad you asked. 🙂

Take a look at this solution on how to identify and read Sun part numbers or this one on how to find Sun part numbers on hard drives.

In closing, I’ll say that experimenting with Third Party disks is something you have to evaluate on a couple of fronts:

a) How much money are you saving versus buying a Sun Original drive? In many cases (particularly with older drives) you won’t be saving much, if anything — and any savings you do gain are immediately eaten up by the myriad issues that may arise if you encounter problems. RMA’s, back and forth shipping costs, engineering time and project delays will quickly eat into any savings that you may get from going Third Party.

b) If the Third Party disk doesn’t work, does your project allow for that extra time you will need to search for, buy and receive the Sun Original drive? Again, project delays can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars per day. Saving $20 or even $100 on a drive quickly looks like a bad idea in the face of extended project timelines.

c) If the Third Party disk doesn’t work, can you return it for a refund? Many sellers have restocking fees or don’t allow returns. Make sure you understand the seller’s policies before you buy a Third Party disk, as you may be stuck with it even if you can’t use it.

While these might seem obvious, I mention them because I’ve often seen customers agonize over the $30 price difference between a Sun Original drive and some el-cheapo Third Party drive they saw on eBay from some fly-by-night seller. If you allow yourself to get caught up in details that $30, the common sense “get the job done” mentality goes right out the window. I’ve seen it happen time and again.

Don’t forget to stop by for the best selection of refurbished Sun Original hard drives.

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