Sun has two surprises in store for users

Sun Microsystems Inc. plans to announce two new technologies in the coming weeks, one of which will help it catch up to rivals IBM and Hewlett-Packard Co. and another that could help it take a step past the competition.

Greg Papadopoulos, executive vice president and chief technology officer at Sun, shed some light on two projects late last week during a meeting with reporters at the company's offices in Burlington, Mass. Papadopoulos said Sun is working on a project code-named Kevlar, which will give Sun users a logical partitioning technology similar to those of IBM and HP. Sun is also expected this week to show one of its new multicore chip designs for low-end and midrange servers.

Until now, Sun has offered a form of physical- or hardware-based partitioning for its servers that limited the number of partitions users could create for running multiple operating systems and applications on the same server. By contrast, IBM and HP offer what is known as logical partitioning on their Unix systems, giving customers more flexibility in carving up systems, according to analysts.

Sun plans to offer logical partitions to its users via the Kevlar project, Papadopoulos said. "This is well on its way to product release," he said.

One analyst said he suspects that the Kevlar technology would be a "hardened form" of the containers Sun currently offers with its Solaris operating system. Users can run applications within a container to try to separate them from other software, thus reducing the impact of one application crashing.

"These are not partitions in the way anybody else on the planet uses the term," said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H. "But in the Solaris 10 time frame, Sun is going to harden the boundaries between those containers to keep software failures from propagating from one group to another, which is after all what you are trying to accomplish with partitions. Sun has not said a whole lot about how it will achieve this Kevlar-like technology."

Sun was once seen as the leader in partitioning technology on Unix servers, as it provided users with tools for changing processing power, bandwidth and memory between partitions ahead of the competition. Its competitors charged forward with similar tools on logical partitions, however, giving users a new option for consolidating applications on a single Unix system.

Sun is again moving in a different direction than its rivals with a class of multicore processors that create a miniaturized symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) system on a single chip. The company gained the technology through its acquisition of Afara WebSystems Inc. last year.

Papadopoulos said he plans at Sun's analyst conference this week to provide details on one of the multicore designs. "Next week, what you will see is something equivalent to a 32-way SMP on a chip," he said on Friday.

IBM was the first company to roll out a chip that placed two processor cores on a single piece of silicon, essentially giving one physical chip the same performance as two. A dual-core approach means chip makers can pack more processing power in a given space while still giving both cores quick access to memory. Sun and HP both plan to release their own dual-core chips later this year, and Intel will come on board with a dual-core Itanium chip in 2005.

However, Sun also plans to release a line of products that puts tens of processor cores on a single chip. The one Papadopoulos plans to describe is one such example. These chips would be less powerful but also less expensive than their standard UltraSPARC processors and would be potentially better able to divide up some types of software workloads, according to the company.

Illuminata's Haff said he expects the 32-way SMP on chip to be more a technology demonstration than a readily available product.

In the past, Sun has described putting eight cores on one chip in its first iteration of the Afara technology.

Elizabeth Heichler of the IDG News Service contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon