UltraSPARC T1 Fires Up Sun

Interview: Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy talks about the role that the UltraSPARC T1 plays in Sun's evolution into a systems vendor for customers of all sizes.

UltraSPARC T1 marks another step in Sun Microsystems Inc.s evolution into a systems vendor for customers of all sizes. In an interview with eWEEK Senior Editor Jeffrey Burt, Sun Chairman and CEO Scott McNealy talked about the technologys role within Sun and its place in the industry.

eWEEK: How important is "Niagara" to Sun?

McNealy: Energy efficiency and chip multi-threading are a big deal for Sun and major breakthroughs for the industry. We invested in this technology several years back when others were doubling down on press releases and dead-end operating systems like HP-UX [Hewlett-Packard Cos Unix operating system]. Sun moved in a different and seemingly controversial direction.

The UltraSPARC T1 was built for todays entry into the "Participation Age"—where 3 million people a week are joining the network not just to get access to information but to interact with each other—blogging, shopping, podcasting, sharing photos, distance learning. All of which puts huge horizontal throughput demands on the infrastructure.

The UltraSPARC T1 processor is designed for this growing Web load. It moves large volumes of data for the billion-plus subscribers who are pinging the Web, and has great throughout. And when you combine the fastest growing OS on the planet, Solaris 10, and Java with the UltraSPARC T1 processor, you get a system that yields the highest throughput for the next generation of the Web.

As more users join the network and energy prices soar, CIOs are concerned about data center environmentals like energy, cooling and space. The UltraSPARC T1 uses only about 70 watts, or 2 watts per thread—half as many watts as microprocessors used in todays servers. Innovations like this help us power the Participation Age while alleviating customer headaches, and without torching the planet.

eWEEK: How important is it to users?

McNealy: This is a radical new processor—designed to handle todays datacenter strains while reducing power and energy requirements. Were starting with eight cores and 32 threads and were only going to improve on this design. The CoolThreads technology in the UltraSPARC T1 offers capacity, performance and a way for customers to lower their energy costs in the datacenter.

eWEEK: Can you talk about Suns Throughput Computing push—what it is, why its important to Sun and its customers, and how it differentiates Sun from its competitors?

McNealy: Throughput Computing is putting a system on a chip. Its using chip multi-threading technology to allow a single processor to execute several software threads simultaneously. That results in significant increases in application performance.

Our CTO, Greg Papadopoulos, anticipated the divergence in processor design around the computer vs. servers/infrastructure several years back, and so we made a decision to guide our [research and development] toward this path. This enabled Marc Tremblay [vice president and chief architect at Sun] and other Throughput Computing pioneers to advance the technology, and now Sun is helping pave the way for the industry.

Others in the industry are now talking about following our approach, but theyve got a lot of work ahead of them. Were hitting the market now, were delivering orders of magnitude throughput increases over competitors, and we have the Solaris OS and Java software that eats threads for lunch. Perfect for the next-generation of Web services our customers are building out for their markets.

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eWEEK: How is the T1 different from its competitors?

McNealy: The T1 is a revolutionary design. It uses eight cores—each having four threads—for a total of 32 threads that work simultaneously, so many tasks are performed in parallel. This is at least twice the threads per core of competitors such as Intel [Corp.], which have a maximum of only two threads per processor, with most processors having only one thread. In terms of power-performance, the T1 requires less than half the power as IBMs Power5+ processors, while providing significantly more throughput. With this technology, and software like Solaris and Java optimized for a multi-thread approach, Sun is uniquely positioned to succeed.

eWEEK: How do you see Suns platform roadmap playing out, given the Opteron-based systems, the Niagara servers, the upcoming Rock technology and the partnership you have with Fujitsu Ltd. for more traditional SPARC systems?

McNealy: Sun is firing on all cylinders. We have technologies that address customers needs at all ends of the market. Weve addressed the industry standard market by designing Opteron-based Sun Fire servers that use one-third the power of other systems while increasing performance by 50 percent and cutting costs in half. We launched UltraSPARC IV+ servers in September, a general-purpose enterprise class system that offers a five-times performance boost over the previous generation SPARC processor. The UltraSPARC T1 microprocessor addresses the next generation of the Web, where there are huge throughput demands on the infrastructure. Were starting with eight cores—each having 4 threads—for a total of 32 systems on a chip. And were only going to improve on this design with Niagara 2, Rock and beyond. Stay-tuned, theres more to come.

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