Sun Offers SPARC for the Public

The UltraSPARC chip's features are critical to solving the virtualization and consolidation issues common in data centers.

Sun Microsystems is looking to add some more spark to its Microelectronics division.

In the last year, Sun created the microelectronics unit to not only develop the company's own microprocessor technology but also as a way to license and sell its silicon technology to other vendors and customers.

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Sun is announcing a new partner June 2, Themis Computer, which will buy Sun's UltraSPARC T2 processors, formerly called Niagara 2, for a new line of blade systems called T2BC. Themis, which specializes in selling hardware to the military, other government agencies and telecommunication companies, already licenses Sun's Solaris operating system.

The agreement with Themis represents one of the first design wins for Sun as the company tries selling its UltraSPARC line outside of the company for the first time, said Michael Knudsen, Sun's vice president of marketing for microelectronics.

Other companies, Knudsen said, have expressed interest in the processor's enhanced floating point capabilities-the T2 has one floating point execution unit with each of its eight cores-and its ability to support 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports for networking. These features were all improvements on the UltraSPARC T1 design.

Bill Kehret, president and CEO of Themis, said these features are critical to solving the types of virtualization and consolidation issues that are common in today's data centers. Since Themis also builds systems that are used in rugged environments, Kehret said Solaris and the UltraSPARC line fit his customers' needs.

Sun is not the only major vendor to begin selling its once proprietary products in the market to increase its profits and attract new customers. IBM has been selling its Power Architecture to third-party vendors for year. (IBM also sells other designs and Themis is using IBM's BladeCenter chassis design to house its new T2BC servers.)

Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT Research, said customers will be interested in the processor's multithreading capabilities and its power efficiency, which is superior to that of some of the other microprocessors that are available in the market.

At the same time, King said, Sun needs to show that its UltraSPARC technology is more than a niche chip for Sun's own products.

"I'd say that Sun's effort to develop OEMs for its UltraSPARC chips is about creating new revenue streams and demonstrating that the SPARC platform can support more than Sun's own efforts," King wrote in an e-mail.

"Creating, maintaining and evolving a processor platform is costly, and new OEM partners could help Sun defray those costs and even become increasingly profitable," King added. "The effort is similar to-and I believe hopes to mirror-IBM's around the Power processors, though Power is an inherently more flexible architecture than SPARC."