Sun Servers Get Added SPARC

OEM aims to drive enterprise use of UltraSPARC T1 chip.

Sun Microsystems Inc. officials are convinced their new UltraSPARC T1 servers, with a combination of high performance and low power consumption, are the perfect fit for todays data centers.

They also know that a key to getting them into the data centers is persuading enterprises, which have been buying x86 servers in droves over the past few years, to take another look at Sun.

To that end, the Santa Clara, Calif., company is wrapping its new Sun Fire T1000 and T2000 servers in a host of new services and programs designed to drive adoption of the systems, which feature Suns new multicore processor, the UltraSPARC T1.

At an event last week in New York to unveil the servers, Sun Chairman and CEO Scott McNealy noted that after years of expansion, during which Sun focused solely on its high-end SPARC/Solaris platform, the company was hurt by the economic downturn, when businesses began turning more of their attention to costs.

"Commodity was in, innovation was out," McNealy said. "All of a sudden, Dell [Inc.] was the cool shirt to wear. We got pretty clearly labeled as the dot in the dot-com bust. ... We do want to get fashionable again, and we do think well make that happen."

The new systems are part of a product makeover for Sun as it tries to revive its fortunes. Sun was the only major OEM last quarter to show a decline in server revenue, but officials say the multiplatform strategy will turn that around.

The company now offers a line of servers running Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s Opteron systems and has plans to launch a new family of servers next year jointly developed with Fujitsu Ltd. In addition, Sun already is working on "Niagara II" and "Niagara III," as well as a chip code-named Rock, which will offer fewer cores than Niagara and is due in 2008.

The T1000 and T2000 are designed to run Web workloads, a segment currently dominated by x86 servers. The systems are priced competitively with systems from such rivals as Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell, and the UltraSPARC T1 offers eight cores that can each run four instruction threads simultaneously. The UltraSPARC T1 also consumes about 70 watts of power, which is less than comparable single-core chips from Intel Corp. and AMD.

Key among the supporting initiatives is the OpenSPARC project, in which Sun will publish specifications for the T1 chip—formerly code-named Niagara—including the design source, verification suite and simulation models. The goal is to create a community that will build hardware and software based on the specifications, thus expanding the platforms reach. The project is patterned after the initiative that brought Linux to the computing world and is similar to other programs, such as IBMs push.

Sun also introduced a try-and-buy program, in which customers and ISVs can try one of the new systems for free for three months. In addition, Sun officials said the companys N1 System Manager Version 1.2 will support the T1000 and T2000 servers, enabling customers to use the same software to manage not only these systems but also the Opteron-based "Galaxy" servers announced in September.

Sun also is pushing a new metric for customers to use when evaluating servers. The SWaP (space, wattage and performance) metric is designed to factor in key attributes as a way of comparing systems.

One customer said he is counting on the new UltraSPARC T1 servers to help him reduce the number of systems in his data center and cut energy costs. Fiducia IT AG has 800 legacy Sun servers in its data center in Karlsruhe, Germany. Matthias Schorer, chief architect at the IT hosting facility, said one Niagara system can do the work of four Sun Fire V440s.

"The response time pretty much stays the same [with the new systems], throughput is higher and electrical costs are down," Schorer said. "What more could you want?"