Downsized Plan Yields Better CPU Road Map, Sun Exec Says

As part of a downsizing announced earlier this month, Sun Microsystems Inc. is stopping development on its UltraSparc V processor and a device called Gemini for low-end servers . David Yen, Sun's executive vice president of processors, enterprise systems and low-end Sparc servers, last week spoke with the IDG News Service about the decision to put all of the company's processor resources into multicore chips that can process multiple software threads simultaneously, an approach that Sun calls "throughput computing."

How did you arrive at the decision to terminate Gemini and UltraSparc V? Well, the quick comment is, people should have no doubt about our belief and our vision in the throughput computing area. We believe in it so much that we wanted to focus all our resources on trying to expedite its development.

We did spend quite some time working on [UltraSparc V] and Gemini. There was really nothing wrong with those processors. We actually taped out both of them, and Gemini even reached the point where the chip was fully working. But in the Gemini space, we have UltraSparc IIIi and UltraSparc IIIi+ that are doing a very capable job. In the [UltraSparc] space, with the current UltraSparc IV, followed by the UltraSparc IV+, and then with the upcoming Rock and Niagara [multicore devices], we actually believe that this is probably a better road map.

Does the decision to cancel Gemini and UltraSparc V move up the ship dates for Rock and Niagara? It definitely helps, because we are moving a significant number of people who up to now had been working on UltraSparc V to work on the Rock and Niagara family.

When do you now expect those two processors to be ready? We have said Niagara 1 -- that's our first Niagara chip -- will happen probably at the very beginning of 2006, and the subsequent members of the Niagara family and the Rock chip will follow that.

David Yen of Sun Microsystems Inc.
David Yen of Sun Microsystems Inc.

But you said that last year. How has the road map changed as a result of the decision on UltraSparc V and Gemini? It certainly will secure the schedule, if not help to move it up earlier.

What does this mean for the future of UltraSparc? Is that product line as we know it dead, or will there be future UltraSparc processors? All of these throughput computing processors are Sparc-compatible. Whether we will continue using the UltraSparc name or not, that's a separate decision. But these are every bit Sparc processors. When one of them comes out, we may label that one as UltraSparc V to continue the sequencing, if that's still the way we want to name them.

You now have a relationship with Advanced Micro Devices for its Opteron chip. Would you consider using another type of core architecture in place of Sparc as you design new multicore processors? We will be working closely with AMD on Opteron-based Sun systems. However, please understand that we have a more than $127 billion installed base [on Sparc technology]. It is Sun's obligation to maintain binary compatibility.

This is one contract Sun considers very seriously. But you're right, the whole [throughput computing] innovation does not necessarily tie to Sparc.

So do you eventually expect to base throughput computing processors or systems on AMD's technology? It could happen, but in this particular case, it involves [working with] AMD. Therefore, until we are ready and we both agree, I cannot comment on that.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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