RealTime IT News

Sun's Rock Is Now Set In Silicon

Sun Microsystems , enjoying a new wave of growth momentum with its Unix products, is soldiering on with increases in performance of its Niagara chip and progress in Rock, its next SPARC chip.

The "Rock" processor is Sun's next-generation, high-end SPARC multithreaded product intended to compliment the Niagara processor. Whereas Niagara has been ideal for mid-level servers like the Sun Fire T1000 and T2000, Rock will be targeted at high-performance, processing-intense data center systems.

The first Rock-based systems are not due until the second half of calendar 2008, but Sun  has hit a big milestone; its first tape-out. This means the design will be taken from emulation and the drawing board to its first silicon sample for testing.

"This is the state where you feel comfortable enough about the simulations of the design that you take those files and ship them to a silicon manufacturer to produce prototypes," Fadi Azhari, director of marketing for SPARC processors, told internetnews.com.

Sun has no performance metrics for Rock yet, but it does have targets. "We're aiming to bring to mid-range and large SMP  systems the same order of magnitude benefits we brought when we introduced Niagara," he said.

Also making progress is Neptune, which Sun claims is the first network ASIC chip optimized for multithreaded systems. More importantly, it will deliver 10 gigabit Ethernet throughput. Sun said that on multi-core systems, Neptune will deliver four times the throughput of Sun's current offerings.

On more current news, Sun announced enhancements to the Sun Fire T2000 line. The company is upping the baseline of memory to 64GB and bumping the processor speed from 1.2GHz to 1.4Ghz. This will improve the performance of memory-bound applications by up to 20 percent while taking on larger workloads.

One happy Sun Fire customer is Tom Cignarella, senior director of technical operations for Planet Out, which runs one of the largest gay and lesbian community sites on the Internet, which serves more than five million unique visitors per month.

When Cignarella took over operations less than a year ago, he inherited a mess of more than 500 low-performance machines, most of them 32-bit. "They probably never should have been put into use," he told internetnews.com.

Gradually, he's been consolidating the systems behind T1000s, going from 500 machines down to under 200. This has resulted in a 40 percent reduction in power commitment, but more importantly, a lot less room being taken up in the company's facilities and significant performance improvements.

Alternative processors were never a consideration. "From a speed standpoint, based on some testing I've seen, Niagara do quite well. They are quite a bit faster and cooler than Intel  and AMD  chips. I know AMD was on the power consumption bandwagon at lot sooner than Intel, but I think Sun was way ahead of them," he said.