Sun Extends Reach of Chip

UltraSPARC IV+ processor to appear in high-end servers.

A month after introducing its new UltraSPARC IV+ processor in its low-end and midrange Sun Fire servers, Sun Microsystems Inc. is bringing the chip to its high-end models.

The company, based in Santa Clara, Calif., is shipping the 36-socket Sun Fire E20K and 72-socket E25K servers with the new 1.5GHz processor, which officials say offers 20 percent more speed and up to five times the performance of its predecessor for the same price and within the same power envelope.

As with the previous systems upgraded with the new processor, Suns CPU/Memory Uniboard and the binary compatibility of the companys Unix operating system, Solaris 10, will enable customers already running servers with UltraSPARC III or IV processors to switch out the Uniboards with few, if any, changes to the high-end servers themselves, said David Yen, executive vice president of Suns Scalable Systems Group.

It also enables systems running UltraSPARC III, IV and IV+ processors to operate in the same chassis.

"Our goal was to minimize, if not eliminate, any disruption thats needed to be created in an upgrade," Yen said. "By taking advantage of the hot-plug compatibility, [customers] can do an upgrade on the fly."

The upgrading of Suns high-end server line is the latest in several moves Sun and its competitors have made in the competitive Unix space. Sun introduced the new chip last month in its Sun Fire V490, V890, E2900, E4900 and E6900 servers. Earlier this month, IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., rolled out its Power5+ RISC chip in its low-end p5 systems and plans to bring it to the midrange and high end next year.

In addition, Fujitsu Computer Systems Corp., of Sunnyvale, Calif., next year will introduce dual-core technology in its SPARC64 processors.

For its part, Intel Corp. later this year will unveil the first of its dual-core Itanium processors. The chip maker, also of Santa Clara, is targeting the 64-bit processors at the RISC space.

Yen said the backward compatibility of the technology is a key advantage for Sun, given businesses desire for investment protection.

"We look much more competitive now than we did two or three years ago," he said. "[Backward compatibility] shows a long-term commitment to customers that were taking care of them, and that is making us much more competitive in deals."

The UltraSPARC IV+ offers users an increased Level 3 cache and Level 2 cache on the chip, a move designed to reduce latency when accessing data in memory.

Early next year, Sun will start shipping systems based on its "Niagara" processors, which will feature as many as eight cores on a single chip, each of which will be able to run up to four instruction threads simultaneously. It also is working on "Niagara II" and "Rock," processors due in 2007 and 2008, respectively.