Sun Tunes Its Key to the Server Biz

Sun Microsystems is turning its attention to software support as it readies its upcoming "Niagara" processors.

Sun Microsystems Inc. is turning its attention to software support as it readies its upcoming "Niagara" processors.

Niagara, due to appear in systems early next year, is a key part of Suns remaking of its server business, going from a single proprietary platform to multiple offerings on several architectures, including x86.

Niagara is the first major step in the companys Throughput Computing initiative, with eight cores that will each be able to run up to four instruction threads simultaneously.

/zimages/2/28571.gifTo read more about Suns Throughput Computing efforts, click here.

The Santa Clara, Calif., company last month demonstrated a system running Niagara chips and now has several dozen systems in-house, many of them used by Suns software unit to "engineer the system software to further increase the opportunities" offered by Niagaras capabilities, said David Yen, executive vice president of Suns scalable systems group.

Sun also is having a few customers run their business applications on the systems and, in the second half of the year, will make Niagara-based systems available to ISVs to enable them to test their software on the chip, Yen said.

"When we roll out Niagara-based products, we want people to feel comfortable," Yen said.

As Sun moves ahead on development of Niagara and other chips that will follow it—in particular, Niagara II and "Rock"—it continues to upgrade its current line of servers. Yen said Niagara II will be built on the 65-nanometer process. He declined to comment on a timetable but did say that he didnt think the 65-nm technology would be mature enough for production rollouts until late next year or early 2007. Rock is due in 2008.

Last week, Sun started to ship the rest of its Sun Fire server line with the faster 1.35GHz UltraSPARC IV processor. Last month, the company introduced a speed increase in four-way Sun Fire V490 and eight-way V890 servers. Now the rest of the systems will feature the faster chip, Yen said. In addition, Sun now is shipping all Sun Fire servers with the Solaris 10 operating system.

Later this year, Sun will start rolling out the UltraSPARC IV+ and IIIi+ chips, both built on the 90-nm process and featuring more on-die cache and faster frequencies than the current IIIi and IV chips, Yen said. Like the UltraSPARC IV, the IV+ also will be dual-core, featuring two IIIi cores on a single die.

In addition, Sun is partnering with Fujitsu Ltd. in developing and marketing SPARC-based systems, a move designed to help the company accommodate plans not only for Niagara and Rock but also for x86 systems powered by Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s 64-bit Opteron processors. The first servers in the Advanced Product Line—the name given the systems in the Sun-Fujitsu partnership—are due in mid-2006. The new systems will be based on the next SPARC64 processor from Fujitsu, a multicore processor code-named Olympus. In the meantime, Sun has begun reselling Fujitsus PrimePower systems.

Jean Bozman, an analyst with IDC, said Suns moves in embracing different architectures over the past couple of years make sense. Now, with the Opteron-based systems ramping and the Niagara and APL servers on the way next year, the company has to see if the new systems catch on. Early indications are that the Opteron servers are gaining traction, Bozman said.

"What they had to do ... with all the moves is stop the bleeding," said Bozman in San Mateo, Calif. "They had to stop a lot of the stuff that was costing them money. Sun had to address a broader market and had to try to leverage their R&D so they were not doing everything by themselves."

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