Sun to Refresh UltraSPARC Servers

Sun will roll out two new servers featuring its UltraSPARC IV processors. Meanwhile, the company shares details on the forthcoming "Niagara 2" processor.

SAN FRANCISCO—Sun Microsystems Inc. this month will roll out two new servers featuring its UltraSPARC IV processors, a Sun executive said Friday.

The new systems will replace the current four-way Sun Fire V480 and eight-way V880 systems, which currently run UltraSPARC III, Andy Ingram, vice president of marketing for Suns Scalable Systems Group, told reporters at a briefing here.

Sun on Sept. 21 is scheduled to unveil the latest quarterly product announcements, including more details of the Solaris 10 operating system, which is scheduled to be announced later this year, Sun spokesperson Sabrina Guttman said.

Ingram declined to give details on the systems, such as their names, but said upgrading to the UltraSPARC IV processor, which was released in March, would give users more power and performance without increasing their footprints or costs. An eight-way server will offer the throughput of a 16-processor system for less than $50,000.

Sun already has begun shipping the systems, he said.

The refresh of the two systems is the latest move in the Santa Clara, Calif., companys push to refresh all of its midrange and high-end systems with the UltraSPARC IV chip, a key first step in Suns throughput computing strategy. Throughput computing is designed to enable simultaneous processing of multiple tasks. The refresh will increase throughput by between 83 percent and 98 percent, Ingram said, citing metrics ranging from the loading of Sybase database queries to SPEC CPU2000, a popular synthetic benchmark.

Sun is taking a two-pronged approach as it works to regain its footing in the enterprise server space. The company is relying on a new line of systems running Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s 64-bit Opteron processor—as well as current systems already running Intel Corp.s Xeon chips—to establish itself in the x86 space.

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In addition, Sun in June entered into a partnership with Fujitsu Ltd. to jointly develop a SPARC-based line of servers starting in 2006 called the Advanced Product Line, or APL. Eventually the APL systems will replace Suns Sun Fire systems and Fujitsus PrimePower servers.

Ingram said Sun saw the partnership as the best way to continue SPARCs development and ramp up the Opteron-based server family.

"We didnt have the resources … to make both investments," he said.

The UltraSPARC III and IV lines will each see at least two more speed improvements: a minor process enhancement in about nine months time, and the addition of an UltraSPARC IV+ about eighteen months from now, which will double the throughput, Ingram said.

Sun will then move to APL with Fujitsu. Both Sun and Fujitsu will split development of the SPARC-based chips—code-named Olympus and Niagara —as well as the manufacturing of the server chassis, Ingram said. Both will ship almost simultaneously in 2006; Olympus is designed for data-intensive operations, while Niagara will be architected for "network-intensive" servers perched on the corporate network.

At the Hot Chips conference in August, Sun engineers confirmed that the Niagara chip will use eight processor cores, each with four-way multithreading capabilities. However, the first Niagara chip will not contain network-specific logic, as Sun executives previously indicated.

Instead, that capability will be left for "Niagara 2," due at an undisclosed later date, Ingram said. In Niagara 2, a system will have the ability to "lock" certain threads to perform network-processing capabilities.

The design of the second Niagara chip will begin to look something like a next-generation communications processor found inside a router, which "dips into a bit of the packet," Ingram said. "But it doesnt care about the content. We care about the content."

Niagaras design also differs from that of "Montecito," Intels next-generation Itanium processor, which uses more than 24MB of cache to keep the processor fed with data. Sun felt it was easier and cheaper to design a processor with numerous cores and only a small 3MB cache, Ingram said, where another core could step in if the first "stalled" while waiting for data.

Kevin Krewell, an analyst with In-Stat/MDR, said that Suns approach of combining mulithreaded processor cores on the same die was becoming popular. He said that another chip company is expected to announce a similar chip, designed for networking, at the Fall Processor Forum next month. Krewell declined to disclose the name of the company.

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