Sun Ups the SPARC Ante

Sun's new chip line has a 20 percent speed increase over the prior release.

A week after rolling out the next generation of the companys x86 servers, Sun Microsystems Inc. officials are preparing to release a line of systems running the latest SPARC processors.

The Santa Clara, Calif., company this week will unveil the first Sun Fire systems armed with the new UltraSPARC IV+ chips, which officials say offer a 20 percent speed increase—to 1.5GHz—and twice the performance of UltraSPARC IV-based systems, all within the same power envelope.

Suns CPU/Memory Uniboard technology and the binary compatibility of Solaris 10 will let businesses already running UltraSPARC III- or IV-based systems switch out Uniboards rather than buy new systems, with few, if any, additional changes to the servers themselves, officials said.

The combination of the new UltraSPARC IV+ servers and the "Galaxy" family of systems based on Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s Opteron processor gives Sun a one-two punch as it tries to grow its share of the Unix market while establishing a greater foothold in the industry-standard server space.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read more about why Sun sought to partner with AMD.

Sun customers are embracing the idea of running both platforms within the same data center. The University of Hawaii is a longtime SPARC customer that recently deployed its first Opteron-based Sun system to run a Windows application for its Electronic Research Administration package.

"We selected the Sun Opteron because of price and the fact that we could easily incorporate it onto our existing Sun hardware maintenance contract," said Michael Hodges, manager of system services at the Honolulu university. "The back end is an Oracle [Corp.] database running on a [Sun Fire] V880, so this became a total Sun procurement."

Sun this week will release the Sun Fire V490, V890, E2900, E4900 and E6900 servers and will outfit the rest of its SPARC systems with the UltraSPARC IV+ in the near future, officials said. The new chip is the latest step in an aggressive road map for the SPARC platform. Early next year, Sun is scheduled to release systems based on its "Niagara" processors, which will feature as many as eight cores on a single chip, each of which will be able to run up to four instruction threads simultaneously.

The company also is working on "Niagara II" and "Rock" chips, which are expected in 2007 and 2008, respectively. In addition, Sun is partnering with Fujitsu Ltd. to create a family of servers based on Fujitsus SPARC64 chip. Those are due at about the middle of next year.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read more about the Sun Niagara chips design.

However, officials said the UltraSPARC IV+ chips will offer users a significant upgrade. Sun increased the Level 3 cache and brought the Level 2 cache onto the chip, to reduce latency when accessing data in memory. Enhancements to the chips pipeline also enabled Sun engineers to improve performance. In addition, moving to a 90-nanometer manufacturing process allowed Sun to keep the same power envelope, officials said.

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