Sun Microsystems, Fujitsu Rolling Out New SPARC-Based Server System

Sun Microsystems and Fujitsu are adding a new SPARC-based server to their lineup of jointly developed high-end systems that support database and other transaction-heavy workloads. The new server, which Sun calls the Sun SPARC Enterprise M3000, is based on the quad-core SPARC64 VII processor that is developed by Fujitsu and Sun. The addition comes at at a time when Sun's sales have slipped and the financial crisis threatens its important Wall Street customers.

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Sun Microsystems and Fujitsu are adding a jointly developed server based on the newer quad-core SPARC64 processor to their lineup of high-end systems that support database and other transaction-heavy workloads.

The Sun and Fujitsu SPARC Enterprise M3000 server is a 2U (3.5-inch) rack-mount system that uses the newer quad-core SPARC64 VII processor. The Enterprise M3000 officially goes on sale Oct. 28, and the system will start shipping to customers early next month. The starting price for the M3000 is $15,000.

For Sun, this latest announcement represents part of an ongoing refresh of the company's server lineup. Earlier this month, Sun and Fujitsu offered new dual-socket systems based on the UltraSPARC T2 Plus processor, and Sun announced several new blade systems on Oct. 21 that included the UltraSPARC T2 chip and quad-core Advanced Micro Devices processors.

The updated server lineup also comes at a time when Sun is struggling financially. On Oct. 20, the company announced that it expected to post a loss of 25 cents to 35 cents a share when it releases its full financial report on Oct. 30. Sun sells a significant amount of its high-end, SPARC-based servers to financial institutions, which are experiencing their own economic breakdown.

"The thing that still surprises and disappoints me is that even with this very strong product refresh that we have seen from Sun over the past 18 months, they are still not getting traction or, if they are getting traction, it's just not showing up in their top-line numbers," said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with Insight 64.

"These are very expensive systems and they are sold into a number of applications, but a lot of Sun's customers are concentrated in financial industries, and I don't think those guys are thinking about building their infrastructure but are thinking about just saving their company," Brookwood added.

There has also been pressure from the likes of IBM with its Power Systems and Hewlett-Packard, which uses Intel's Itanium processor for its Integrity line. These players dominate the high-end Unix market, but Sun's sales seem to have suffered the most.

The M3000, Brookwood noted, does offer more performance for a price that's not much more than some of the older SPARC-based systems.

In addition, Brookwood said that newer quad-core SPARC64 VII processors (2.52GHz) offer features such as SMT (simultaneous multithreading), which offers better performance with older, single-threaded applications, and enhanced floating-point capabilities. Sun and Fujitsu were also able to increase the number of cores with this SPARC chip without dramatically increasing the thermal envelope.

"Many of our customers are running single-threaded applications, and the SMT technology actually performs better on single-threaded applications than CMT [chip multithreading technology]," said Tom Atwood, a group manager for SPARC Enterprise at Sun.

"It also has low power and low cooling thresholds that make it a very economic system," said Atwood. "This system also has features such as the instruction retry on the CPU, memory mirroring, and its has fault management on the software through Solaris as well error protection circuits and error correction circuits inside that are watching what is going on."

The Enterprise M3000, which is a single-socket system, offers up to 32GB of main memory and supports four 146GB SAS (serial-attached SCSI) drives. The system also runs Sun's Solaris 10 operating system.