Sun, Fujitsu Launch Enhanced UltraSPARC Systems into Roiling Unix Market

Sun and Fujitsu are offering improved performance and virtualization features for their UltraSPARC-based servers through the adoption of new processors and LDoms virtualization software. The rollout comes at a time when uncertainty surrounds the Unix space, with Oracle buying Sun and delays in Intel's next-generation Itanium chip. At the same time, IBM is paving the way for its upcoming Power7 platform.

Sun Microsystems and Fujitsu are rolling out enhanced UltraSPARC-based servers into a Unix market that could see continued shifting over the coming months.

Officials with Sun and Fujitsu July 21 boasted improved performance and virtualization capabilities in the systems, thanks to the addition of the 1.6GHz UltraSPARC T2 and T2 Plus processors and the latest release of Sun's LDoms (Logical Domains) virtualization software, all of which are supported by Sun's Solaris 10 operating system.

The enhancements enable enterprises to grow the performance and efficiencies of their data centers without having to increase their expenses, according to John Fowler, executive vice president of Sun's Systems Group.

"We've got massive density already built in," Fowler said in a statement. "It's a great choice for both consolidation and the heavy lifting required by enterprise applications."

The announcement comes at an interesting time for the Unix community. Oracle's expected $7.4 billion acquisition of Sun-Sun shareholders approved the transaction July 16-brings into question the future of Sun's Unix-based hardware portfolio, and Intel is still experiencing delays in releasing the next-generation "Tukwila" Itanium chip. Hewlett-Packard has standardized its high-end Integrity systems on Itanium, and it's those Integrity systems that run HP's Unix variant, HP-UX.

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The announcement from Sun and Fujitsu also came the same day IBM began paving the way to its upcoming Power7 processor platform with the unveiling of an upgrade path from Power6, as well as a new virtualization management tool, called Systems Director VMControl. Power7-based IBM servers are expected to begin shipping in the first half of 2010.

"Unix systems customers currently face unprecedented uncertainties," Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT Research, said in a report issued July 22. "Some of those are competitive, with most of the pressure coming from below in the form of increasingly able x86/64-based solutions. New-generation processors designed to support particularly robust virtualization, such as Intel's Xeon 5500 (Nehalem) chips, are likely to ratchet-up the pressure even higher."

However, much of the uncertainly is coming from within the Unix space, King said.

"On the RISC side of the market, Oracle's brewing acquisition of Sun Microsystems has many in the industry questioning the company's plans for or dedication to Sun's UltraSPARC technologies," King wrote. "Even if Oracle supports Sun's traditional platforms and solutions and customers (as CEO Larry Ellison insists it will), many people doubt Oracle's ability to effectively run, let alone turn around, Sun's troubled hardware business."

Given all that, it looks as though IBM is in the best position among Unix vendors, he said, noting that IBM could make big gains in the Unix space by taking advantage of issues around rivals such as HP and Sun. And while x86-based systems continue to grow as an overall percentage of the global server market, Unix-based systems still accounted for 33 percent-about $3.3 billion-of the overall server revenue in the first quarter of 2009, according to research firm IDC. That was up from 30.2 percent the first quarter of 2008.

Despite the questions surrounding the future of Sun hardware, Fujitsu officials said they are seeing continued adoption of the UltraSPARC-based servers across a wide range of companies, from smaller startups to larger enterprises.

"With the enhancements we're announcing ... we will be able to offer customers even greater performance and virtualization capabilities," Noriyuki Toyoki, corporate vice president at Fujitsu, said in a statement.

Through the combination of LDoms 1.2 and Solaris, businesses get built-in configuration tools for a more streamlined setup of LDoms, as well as CPU power management through the automatic powering off of processing cores not in use.

Other capabilities include greater support of jumbo frames, which let businesses send more data across the network at one time, dynamic migration of domains, built-in recovery through automatic LDoms backup, and a physical-to-virtual migration tool for businesses looking to move from existing legacy SPARC/Solaris systems to the newer CMT (chip multithreading) servers.