Sun Microsystems is rolling out its latest hardware based on its UltraSPARC T2 chip.
On April 9, Sun will officially begin selling two new servers, the SPARC Enterprise T5140 and the T5240, which use the latest UltraSPARC processor, formerly called Niagara 2. The difference between these servers and the systems Sun introduced in October 2007 is that the T5140 and T5240 support two processors each, giving Sun additional leverage in the MP (multiprocessor) market.
The UltraSPARC T2 chips that Sun had been developing for these MP servers were originally code-named Victoria Falls. These UltraSPARC chips contain an extra piece of circuitry that creates what Sun calls “cache coherency,” which gives the chips the ability to communicate with each other and allows for load balancing, said Mat Keep, product manager for Sun’s Niagara Systems group.
In addition to Sun, Fujitsu will also launch a group of similar systems based on the Niagara 2 chip. Sun and Fujitsu jointly develop SPARC chips, although Sun has taken the lead on the UltraSPARC line.
The presence of two UltraSPARC chips means users can access a total of 128 instructional threads and up to 16 processing cores within each machine. When Sun introduced the chips in August, the company decided to emphasize its CMT (chip multithreading technology) capabilities and floating-point performance compared with clock speed.
Later in 2008, Sun will add to its Niagara-based line by offering a two-socket blade server and then a four-socket system that will offer up to 256 compute threads, said John Fowler, Sun’s executive vice president for systems.
Sun said it believes the new UltraSPARC-based systems offer an alternative to commodity x86 servers using processors from either Intel or Advanced Micro Devices. Instead of increasing the clock speeds-the UltraSPARC T2 runs at 1.4GHz-Sun focused on increasing the performance by adding more cores and more threads to lower latency and improve bandwidth.
“We have added SMP [symmetric multiprocessing] capabilities so you can add two of them into a single system, so within one rack unit or a two-rack-unit-high enclosure you are going to have 128 simultaneous compute threads,” Keep said. “What that means in comparison to other compatible systems is that you’ll have two-and-a-half to five times the performance compared to a two-socket, Intel-based system and price performance that is five times better.”
Solaris OS Works Across All Systems
Sun also said believes that the floating point capabilities and increased memory bandwidth of the Niagara chips will help the company in the area of HPC (high-performance computing). Keep said he believes these developments will not only help Sun increase its presence with customers looking to support Web applications and database workloads-Oracle, SAP and eventually MySQL-but also with HPC applications such as seismic modeling.
Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT Research, said Sun’s Niagara-based systems can compete against x86 servers and some of the lower-end IBM Power-based systems. In one way, Sun is ahead of some of the other offerings when it comes to data center consolidation and the “green” computing movement.
However, since Sun offering both its own Niagara-based servers and its own line of x64 systems (x86-64 bit) that use Intel and AMD processors, it risks confusing customers by offering two different, lower-end systems that compete for the same group of users. The real key for Sun is that it can offer its own Solaris operating system across all of its hardware, King said.
“By having Solaris work across all of its systems, Sun has a real advantage when it comes to getting ISVs and tool makers to create applications,” King said. “Also, from a systems management standpoint, Sun has created a pretty powerful argument for customers to buy its servers.”
Linux is the only other operating system that offers that type of flexibility across different hardware lines, King said.
The other advantage that Sun said it believes it is offering its customers is price performance.
The 1U (1.75-inch) T5140 system with two SAS (serial-attached SCSI) 146GB hard disk drives and 8GB of RAM starts at $14,995. The 2U (3.5-inch) T5240 system with the same configuration starts at $17,995 and can scale up to 128GB of RAM and 16 SAS drives.
In addition to the hardware and Sun’s own Solaris operating system, these two systems support the company’s virtualization technologies, Solaris Containers and Logical Domains. These will allow users to create up to 128 virtual servers within each system, Keep said.
With Solaris Containers, Keep said customers can now run applications that were designed for older versions of the Solaris operating system on the new hardware and with the latest Solaris 10 operating system.
The T5140 and T5240 are available from Sun as of April 9.