Sun doubles processing power of UltraSparc T2 Plus servers

T5440 system takes Sparc Enterprise midrange line from two to four sockets

Sun Microsystems Inc. today boosted the processing capabilities of its most popular Unix server line with the aim of attracting bigger IT workloads, including databases, ERP applications and large server-consolidation projects.

The new system, called the Sparc Enterprise T5440, is based on Sun's eight-core UltraSparc T2 Plus processor — a version of the company's T2 chip that was designed to enable two of the devices to share cache and other system resources. The four-socket T5440 expands on the two-socket T5240, which was introduced last spring along with the T2 Plus.

Servers based on the T2 processor family, which debuted last October and is also known by the code-name Niagara 2, have become a $1 billion business that currently is growing at an annual rate of about 60%, according to Jonathan Schwartz, Sun's CEO and president. That makes it "arguably the fastest-growing business that we have ever built at Sun," he said.

The T5440, which is being manufactured by Sun business partner Fujitsu Ltd., runs Solaris 10 and can support up to 256 threads and 512GB of memory when fully loaded. Pricing for the new server starts at $44,995.

Systems with the earlier generation of T2 chips were focused on so-called network-facing uses, such as application servers. But with this upgrade, Sun will also pitch the T5440 as a midrange system for ERP and other corporate applications.

The multithreading capability "means if you were running historically 256 separate machines, you can collapse them on to one," thus saving on hardware and systems management costs, Schwartz said.

But what Sun hopes will really drive interest in the T5440 is its environmental characteristics. It's a compact system that fits in a 4U rack (1U is 1.75 in. high) and includes a variety of power management features, such as the ability to park idle threads and disable processor cores when they aren't needed. The server also offers self-regulating fan controls, another feature aimed at minimizing power use.

Sun's server revenue declined in the past quarter by about 7% year over year, according to market research firm IDC. In addition, Schwartz said that sales of the company's high-end enterprise systems have been slow. "That's not the growth part of the marketplace," he said.

The biggest problem for Sun in the Unix server market has been expanding outside of its established customer base. That's one of the reasons why Sun expanded its development of x86 systems through a joint development deal with Intel Corp. early last year.

Jean Bozman, an analyst at IDC, said that although Sun's overall server revenue has dropped off, sales of systems based on the multithreading UltraSparc chips "have seen dramatic growth." Bozman also said that she is seeing evidence of Sun gaining new customers via the multithreading technology.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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