Sun Talks Up Solaris for Intel 'Nehalem EX' Chip

Sun Microsystems officials are touting the work Sun and Intel have done over the past two years to ensure that Solaris works seamlessly with Intel's chip microarchitecture code-named Nehalem. Intel officials have said they expect servers powered by the eight-core Nehalem EX processor to begin appearing on the market in early 2010. Sun says Solaris has been able to take advantage of the various power, cooling, virtualization and management features in the upcoming Xeon processors.

Sun Microsystems officials are touting the performance of the Solaris operating system when run on servers powered by Intel's upcoming "Nehalem EX" processors.

In a recent white paper, Sun officials said the tight collaboration with Intel over the past two years has resulted in a Solaris 10 OS that can take advantage of such features as Turbo Boost, Hyper-Threading and QuickPath, which are found on Intel's Nehalem chip microarchitecture.

It comes as Sun and Oracle officials await the approval of the European Commission to merge. Oracle is buying Sun for $7.4 billion, but European regulators are investigating the deal for any antitrust issues. Oracle officials have said the delay in closing the deal is costing the company $100 million a month, and Sun revealed Oct. 20 that it has to lay off another 3,000 workers due in large part to the delay.

Intel already has rolled out chips that put its Nehalem microarchitecture into everything from mainstream PCs to servers with two processors. The eight-core "Nehalem EX" is designed for servers with four or more processors at the high end of the server market, making it a challenger to incumbent RISC architectures from the likes of IBM, Hewlett-Packard and even Sun, with its SPARC/Solaris offerings.

Intel is readying the Xeon processor for production release later in 2009, with the chip showing up in systems in early 2010.

Sun and Intel have been working together for more than two years, a relationship that has enabled Sun to optimize Solaris for the features in the Nehalem chips. Given that Solaris is used in many high-end server environments and Nehalem EX is designed for multiprocessor computing, the two are a good match in such areas as multithreaded workloads and energy efficiency, Sun said in the white paper.

For example, the Nehalem EX chip enables two instruction threads per core, or up to 16 threads per eight-core chip. When extrapolated out over an eight-socket system, that is up to 128 threads per server. Solaris is optimized to handle multithreaded applications, according to Sun.

Solaris 10's scheduler and memory placement technologies have been optimized to take advantage of Intel's QuickPath high-speed interconnect feature, and the Solaris scheduler helps maximize the performance while driving down the energy consumption.

Solaris also is being optimized to take advantage of Nehalem EX's Smart Cache and Streaming SIMD Extensions 4, Sun said.

In regard to power consumption, Sun and Intel have optimized Solaris to adjust chip power needs based on workload demands and to make the Solaris kernel "tickless," so that it does not wake up to process a clock tick, but will stay idle until more important workloads are launched.

In addition, the xVM hypervisor in Solaris supports the various virtualization capabilities in the Intel Nehalem EX chip.

"The collaboration of Sun and Intel, including the joint engineering work from both companies, has already resulted in state-of-the-art development and deployment platforms for environments based on Intel Xeon processors," Sun said in the white paper. "The next step is focusing on delivering the OS optimized for the next-generation Intel Xeon processor-maximizing performance, reliability, virtualization and power efficiency. The result will be an ideal platform for mission- and business-critical deployment."