Sun Claims a Milestone with Rock

News Analysis: Executives are readying the latest SPARC microprocessor for a 2008 release and will look to include its architecture in mid-range and larger server systems.

Claiming a milestone for symmetric multiprocessing server systems, Sun Microsystems is readying the release of its latest SPARC model multiprocessor, called "Rock," for a 2008 release.

While a firm date for an actual release has not been set, Fadi Azhari, director of outbound marketing at Sun, said the Santa Clara, Calif., company plans to start including this multicore processor in mid-range and high-end systems by the second half of 2008.

Azhari would not release specific details about Rocks configurations, but did say the processor will include up to 16 cores per chip. The UltraSPARC T1, which is also known as Niagara, has eight cores per chip. Azhari added that Sun is working to finalize the configuration in its new multithreaded processor and will release additional specifics during the rest of the year.

"We really do consider this a very significant milestone in regards to SMP [symmetric multiprocessing] systems," Azhari said.

When Rock finally is released, Sun will likely market the processor as a high-end processor that will work with large databases in vertical markets such as telecommunication, finance and government.

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"When this does become available, we see it being particularly targeted for mid-range and large SMP systems, such as big database applications, big Oracle databases and a big mission-critical systems," Azhari added.

In addition to the release schedule for Rock, Sun announced Jan. 18 that it would offer a new Sun Fire T2000 with an UltraSPARC T1 processor that now runs at 1.4GHz as well as doubling the memory to 64GB.

These new configurations offer 30 percent greater throughput compared to the previous generation of T2000 servers, which have processors that run at 1.2GHz. These new systems will also deliver two times higher performance, five times the performance per-watt and nine times Suns own SWAP (space, watts and performance) metric, which gauges data center efficiency.

In addition, Sun is also rolling out a new piece of networking technology—code-named "Neptune"—which will be embedded inside the Niagara II processor to increase throughput.

This multi-port 10G Ethernet network interface device, according to Sun officials, will give users 10GB of throughput when it is used with network cards and systems.

Once in place, Neptune will offer four times Suns current offerings when it is used with a SPARC or x64-based multi-thread, multicore server.

In the past several months, Sun has been working steadily to improve its standing within the community of major IT providers. In studies of 2006 third-quarter server sales by research firms IDC and Garter, Sun ranked in the top five.

In the IDC study, Sun was ranked third, tied with Dell, and held 10 percent of the markets revenues. In the Gartner study, Sun ranked fourth, with nearly 11 percent of the markets revenue and an increase of nearly 25 percent compared to 2005.

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Sun, in making its series of announcements this week, noted that the T1000 and T2000 servers, since they were introduced last year, represent $100 million in revenue each quarter.

A major test for the company will come Jan. 23, when it releases its next quarterly results. In a report to investors, Richard Farmer, an analyst with Merrill Lynch of New York City, wrote that Sun had finished up December with a strong showing of its server sales.

This might mean that Sun may could see revenue increase beyond Farmers original estimate of $3.5 billion. A survey of CIOs, according to Farmer, showed an increased interest in the Niagara line, although he does note that some investors remain skeptical of the companys long-term performance.

Tom Cignarella, senior director of technical operations for, a San Francisco media and entertainment company that serves the gay community, started to replace older Sun servers with new Sun Fire T1000 servers, which use UltraSPARC T1 Niagara processors, within the last seven months.

By using these servers, combined with Suns Solaris Containers virtualization technology, Cignarella was able to replace 250 servers with just 20 systems. Cignarella also said the new Sun servers helped him reduce power consumption by 40 percent.

"It was just overwhelming the number of servers and the number of applications we had running," Cignarella said. "We were paying a lot for power, and we just maxed out on power consumption. It was not so much a space issue, but we did consolidate what we had."

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