Sun Expands OpenSPARC Program

The company is publishing the hardware design for its UltraSPARC T1 processor and the Solaris OS simulation specs for the chip.

A month after releasing the architecture specifications and hypervisor APIs for its UltraSPARC T1 processor to the open-source community, Sun Microsystems is putting out more information on the chip.

Sun on March 21 will publish the hardware design for the T1—formerly code-named Niagara—and the Solaris operating system simulation specifications for the chip.

The move is the latest in the Santa Clara, Calif., companys OpenSPARC project, designed to enable hardware and software developers to build atop the new chips architecture. The goal is to build an ecosystem around the processor that will expand the reach of the SPARC platform.

"There is no catch," said Sunil Joshi, senior vice president of design tools, performance and quality assurance at Sun. "Its [licensed] under GPL [GNU General Public License], its free. The success of the community depends on how you let the community take itself where it wants to go.

"Its hard to predict where people will take it."

OpenSPARC is the latest move by Sun, long known for its proprietary stance, to release its technology to the open-source community. The company has undertaken similar initiatives with its Solaris OS and middleware. Joshi said the next natural step for Sun was to open up its hardware.

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The release of the hypervisor APIs in February enables companies to port Linux, BSD and other OSes to the T1 platform.

On March 21 at the Multi-Core Expo in Santa Clara, Sun will make the source of the T1 design, expressed in Verilog, public. In addition, it will release verification and simulation models and the Solaris 10 simulation images.

Suns hardware push into the open hardware space follows a similar move by IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., in 2004, when it open-sourced part of its Power architecture. However, Sun officials say they are publishing more documentation than IBM did. The hope is that the number of developers and products around the T1 will grow, Joshi said.

"If you have a vibrant community that is innovating and advancing the technology, that is a very healthy, successful sign," he said.

He said Sun did a beta release of the information in mid-February, and received a lot of requests from developers.

The T1 chip is a key part of Suns push to remake its server line. The processor, which currently is featured in the Sun Fire T1000 and T2000 systems, is equipped with what Sun calls its CoolThreads technology, which enables the eight cores to each run four instruction threads simultaneously, while still keeping the power envelope at about 65 watts. Later this year, Sun will offer a Netra blade system—aimed at the telecommunications industry—powered by T1.

The company already is working on the next-generation chip—Niagara II—which will tape out later this year. The chip will offer greater throughput and floating point capabilities. Niagara II is expected to appear in systems next year. In addition, Sun this year will tape out "Rock," another SPARC chip with fewer cores that is due out in 2008.

Sun also is partnering with Fujitsu on a family of systems—called the Advanced Product Line—that will be based on Fujitsus upcoming dual-core SPARC64 processor. In addition, Sun is expanding its line of servers running on Advanced Micro Devices Opteron chip, with plans to add an eight-socket system and a blade server this year.

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