Sun, Fujitsu Finally Ready to Roll Out Sparc-based Servers

Joint systems give Sun users new path for upgrades

It has been more than two years coming. But Sun Microsystems Inc. and Fujitsu Ltd. this week are expected to unwrap a line of jointly developed Sparc-based servers that are the future path for users of Sun’s Unix systems — at least until its Rock multicore processor makes an appearance within the next year or two.

Sun officials said the new Sparc Enterprise systems can support up to 128 processor cores. The midrange and high-end models are based on Fujitsu’s Sparc64 VI dual-core processor, while the entry-level systems use Sun’s own UltraSparc T1 chip.

Sun wouldn’t disclose performance benchmarks for the new servers last week. But Bob McGaughey, senior director of the company’s Sparc Enterprise group, said that tests have shown a 50% performance increase over Sun’s existing servers. He added that the gain is being driven by several factors, including proc­essor improvements and enhancements to the subsystems that handle memory, interconnects and I/O.

M8000 Server

M8000 ServerThe Sun-Fujitsu systems, previously referred to as the Advanced Product Line, were detailed in 2004 and had been expected to ship last year. “This is a serious engineering project for both companies, and we wanted to get it right,” said Richard McCormack, senior vice president of marketing at Fujitsu Computer Systems Corp. in Sunnyvale, Calif.

What isn’t clear is how the Sparc Enterprise line fits in with systems that will be based on Rock, which will support up to 16 proc­essor cores. Last week, Sun President and CEO Jonathan Schwartz posted pictures on his blog of what he called the “first silicon” of the Rock device. “You have no idea how cool it is to have this arrive on my desk in a plastic sandwich bag,” he wrote.

Nearly all of the comments that were posted in response to Schwartz’s blog entry praised that step in the chip’s development. But a couple of people did ask questions about the relationship between future Rock-based hardware and the Sparc Enterprise servers. It’s a question that Sun still isn’t ready to answer.

In an interview last week, Sun officials declined to discuss the company’s server road map and said they wanted to focus on the products that are available now. Regarding existing UltraSparc proc­essors, McGaughey said he doesn’t expect any additional speed bumps for the UltraSparc IV+ chip at this point.

Development Team

Sparc Enterprise

New servers jointly developed and manufactured by Sun, Fujitsu and Fujitsu Siemens Computers:

•  T1000 and T2000 entry-level systems are based on the UltraSparc T1 and support up to eight cores.•  M4000/M5000 midrange and M8000/M9000 high-end models use Fujitsus Sparc64 VI chip and can have four to 128 cores.

But Sun does expect many users to continue to run the systems they already have. “We don’t want to force any kind of migration,” said McGaughey. The new servers only support the Solaris 10 operating system, and many Sun users are still running Solaris 8 or 9, according to McGaughey. Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H., said the new servers will bridge the gap until Rock arrives, “if Rock is the next big thing that Sun says it is going to be.” Sparc Enterprise should be of interest to users who can’t wait a couple of years for Rock-based systems, Haff said, adding that the new machines “look to be a pretty good interim product line.”

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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