Sun Releases T1 Specs to Open-Source Community

Updated: By releasing "Niagara" specs, Sun hopes to create a community around the processor.

Sun Microsystems officials said in December, when they unveiled their UltraSPARC T1-based systems, that they were planning to give the specifications for the new processor to the open-source community.

On Feb. 14, theyre going to start making good on that promise. Officials attending the Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco are announcing that Sun is releasing the UltraSPARC Architecture 2005—for the T1 chip, formerly code-named Niagara—and the specifications for the hypervisor APIs as part of its OpenSPARC platform.

The goal is to fuel the creation of a community around the T1 processor, growing the number of operating systems and applications that can run on the servers.

The move is part of a larger push into the open-source community by the Santa Clara, Calif., company, which already has open-sourced its Solaris operating system and middleware.

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Sun on Feb. 14 will release three key sets of documentation, said Mike Splain, a Sun fellow and chief technology officer and chief technologist for Suns Scalable Systems Group. The first two are the chips architecture specifications and the definitions that dictate how developers should deal with those specs.

Finally, Sun is releasing the hypervisor APIs, which will make it easier for companies to port Linux or other operating systems onto the architecture, Splain said.

Splain said Sun will be releasing further documentation in mid-March.

Sun is looking for the T1 chip to be a key RISC platform going forward. The processor, with Suns CoolThreads technology, offers up to eight cores per chip, with each core able to process up to four instructions simultaneously. In addition, with a power envelope of 70 watts—which is cooler than such competitors as Intel Xeons—the T1 can address the issues of power consumption and heat generation in the data center.

Sun also is pushing ahead with future development. Larry Singer, senior vice president and strategic insight officer, said the company already has taped out and begun packaging Niagara II, and has begun taping out the SPARC64 chip for the Advanced Product Line—a joint venture with Fujitsu—and "Rock," a processor with fewer cores that is due for release in 2008.

Sun officials see the open-source push as a way of encouraging developers to port their operating systems and applications to the platform.

"I dont want SPARC development to consist of just the 600 or 700 people we have here at Sun," President and Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Schwartz said in an interview with eWEEK. "I want to include all the other communities out there, but we have to give them a vehicle to engage with Sun so that we can all benefit from all that innovation that is out there."

/zimages/4/28571.gifeWEEK Editorial Director Eric Lundquist chats with Schwartz about whats going on at Sun in this special eWEEK podcast. Click here to listen to the podcast.

IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., made a similar move in 2004 when it open-sourced part of its Power architecture. However, Splain said, Sun is releasing much more documentation on the T1 than IBM did with Power.

"Here were modeling much more closely to open-source Sun," he said.

Courting the Linux community would fall in line with what IBM and x86 chip makers have been doing for years. IBM for several years has been pushing to make its Power platform a destination for Linux developers.

Theres a huge number of communities that want access to an open-source platform, "and we are happy to help them," Schwartz said. "I would rather have them do that with a free derivative of SPARC than to have to pay to go get a derivative of an x86 chip."

During an interview with eWEEK the week of Feb.6, Schwartz said he was leaning toward using the GNU GPL (General Public License) to license OpenSPARC. Asked why he would do that when Sun has already created the CDDL as a new open-source license specifically for Solaris, Schwartz said the CDDL was necessary as Sun does not own all the code for Solaris and could thus not use the GPL on that. On Feb. 14, Schwartz confirmed that OpenSPARC will be licensed under the GPL.

"I own all the intellectual property in Niagara, and licensing it under the GPL will help our standing in the open-source community, which is extremely important," he said.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read eWEEK Labs review of one of Suns first "Niagara"-based servers.

Splain said Sun began looking at open-sourcing T1 about six months ago.

"Once we saw other parts of the business go ahead and open-source parts of the Sun software stack, we thought, Why dont we open-source the hardware?" he said.

The T1 platform is part of larger push by Sun to revamp its hardware line. Along with the upcoming Rock and APL systems, Sun also is building a line of systems based on Advanced Micro Devices Opteron processor, as it tries to gain a foothold in the competitive x86 space.

Editors Note: This story was updated to include new information about the T1s licensing.

Senior Editor Peter Galli contributed to this report.

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