Sun Microsystems Inc. on Tuesday unveiled the first systems to run on its new multicore UltraSPARC T1, which the company hopes will give it greater traction in sectors now dominated by x86 machines.
The rollout is a cornerstone of Suns fourth-quarter product announcements, being made in New York City. Sun officials have been talking about the processor—which offers up to eight cores per chip—for more than a year and officially introduced it in November.
Sun also announced a host of programs around the processor, including the option of evaluating the server before buying it, and upgraded Sun N1 System Manager software that now supports the two new servers.
The chip (formerly code-named Niagara), with eight cores that can process four instruction threads simultaneously, is designed to offer greater performance than current single- or dual-core processors, but without ramping up energy consumption or heat generation. The UltraSPARC T1 has a 70-watt power envelope.
Sun officials refer to these capabilities—high throughput with low power consumption—as their “CoolThreads” technology.
At the event, Sun Chairman and CEO Scott McNealy said the new UltraSPARC T1 is the latest step in Suns push to re-establish itself as a key server player, an initiative that includes the line of systems powered by Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s Opteron processor and the upcoming Advanced Product Line of systems, jointly developed with Fujitsu Ltd. and based on Fujitsus SPARC64 processor. Those systems are due to launch in mid-2006.
McNealy noted that for several years, Suns business was rapidly expanding. That ended with the economic downturn, when businesses began to look less for innovation and more toward costs.
“Commodity was in, innovation was out,” McNealy said at the event. “All of a sudden, Dell was the cool shirt to wear. We got pretty clearly labeled as the dot in the dot-com bust. … We do want to get fashionable again, and we do think well make that happen.”
He said that will happen through partnerships with companies like AMD and Fujitsu, acquisitions like those of Afara Websystems Inc.—which brought the basis for the UltraSPARC T1 chip to Sun—Kealia Inc. and SeeBeyond Technology Inc., and innovation, including the new multicore architecture. He also said that with $4.5 billion in the bank, Sun isnt done acquiring companies to fill out its portfolio.
The two Sun Fire systems introduced Tuesday are both small rack-optimized servers. The Sun Fire T2000 is a 2U (3.5-inch) server with fully redundant and hot-plug components. That system, with pricing starting at $7,795, is shipping immediately. David Yen, executive vice president of Suns Scalable Systems Group, said in an interview before the event that the Santa Clara, Calif., company already has shipped more than 1,000 test systems to customers.
The T1000, a 1U (1.75-inch) system, will ship in March 2006. Pricing starts at $2,995.
Both systems will ship with chips with four, six or eight cores.
The systems are designed to run current Web workloads, an area dominated by small x86 systems. Yen said the new Sun Fires capabilities and pricing show that Sun, which before had focused primarily on its higher-end SPARC/Solaris platform, can compete with the x86 systems. The new Sun boxes perform better and cost less than comparable x86 systems, he said, and dont contribute to the energy and heat issues that quickly are becoming key data center issues.
“What it shows is that our costs are not really higher than x86 costs,” Yen said. “[The servers] are not just a SPARC/Solaris play; they also are crossover products.”
Increased Web Traffic
McNealy said that the increased amount of traffic across the Web—from communications to publishing to transactions—and the variety of devices used to do drive this traffic is fueling the need to do more work at the same time.
That translates into the need for more power. However, the cost of data center real estate and the energy used to run and cool the systems illustrate the need to curb the push for more systems.
With the UltraSPARC T1, the need for power and the need to conserve energy are both addressed, he said.
Through its new program, Sun is letting customers and ISVs try one of the new systems for free for three months.
In addition, Sun officials also said that their Sun N1 System Manager v1.2 will support the T1000 and T2000 servers, enabling customers to use the same software to manage not only these systems but the Opteron-based “Galaxy” servers announced in September.
Sun also is pushing a new metric for customers to use when evaluating servers. The SWaP (space, wattage and performance) metric is designed to factor in key attributes as a way of comparing systems.
A number of ISV partners took the stage with Sun, including Oracle Corp.
The software maker has been a key figure in the ongoing debate in how to license software for systems running multicore chips and virtual machines.
Oracle President Charles Phillips said at the Sun event that Oracle is implementing a new processor strategy in which Oracle software running an eight-core system will be priced as if the server were running two processors.
Other software makers, such as Microsoft Corp., have said that, for dual-core systems, they will price their software on a per-socket—rather than a per-core—basis.
However, customers and industry observers have questioned whether ISVs will continue that policy as chips with four or more cores come onto the market.
Critics have questioned Suns ability to market and sell such a large number of server lines, and whether they will cannibalize each other. However, Sun officials have said that each server line has distinct target markets, and that overlap is not a concern.
The UltraSPARC T1 is the first key step in Suns Throughput Computing initiative, with performance being driven by the ability to simultaneously run multiple instruction threads. Yen said Sun engineers already are actively developing Niagara II and are beginning work on Niagara III. In addition, Sun still is on pace to roll out “Rock,” another chip that runs fewer threads and is due for release in 2008. As long as Sun gets the sale, it doesnt matter whether it was a SPARC system or Opteron server that was bought, McNealy said.
Editors Note: This story was updated to include information and comments from Sun Chairman and CEO Scott McNealy.