RealTime IT News

Sun's OpenSPARC Push Advances

Sun Microsystems continued its open source push today with the announcement of an independent governing board to set the direction for its OpenSPARC hardware initiative.

Sun  officially made the design of its UltraSPARC T1 processor open source in March and said it's attracted several thousand downloads. The company said it hopes to gain new customers with its open source push.

"To grow, we can't just rely on upgrading our installed base, we have to go after the other guy's business, and that's what open source helps us do," said John Fowler, executive vice president of Sun's systems group.

The OpenSPARC governance board is expected to solicit input from the OpenSPARC community for help in setting its agenda. The board's five charter members are Insight64 analyst Nathan Brookwood, professor Jose Renau of University of California at Santa Cruz, Rober Ober, a fellow in the chief technology office at LSI Logic, and two Sun employees: David Weaver and chief open source officer Simon Phipps.

The announcement also included the release of a new GNU/Linux distribution, Gentoo Linux, which now supports UltraSPARC T1.

In May, Ubuntu Linux was the first third-party to announce a port of the GNU/Linux OS to OpenSPARC. Sun said there has been over 3,000 downloads of the OS for OpenSPARC since the announcement.

Sun also announced that SimplyRisc has completed work on a four-thread, single-core derivative of UltraSPARC T1 for the embedded and handheld computer markets. The UltraSPARC T1 has 8 cores and 32 threads.

"When you think of Web 2.0, a multithreaded device at the edge of the network could really draw demand," Fadi Azhari's, director of marketing and business development for OpenSPARC, told internetnews.com.

Brookwood said he was motivated to join the OpenSPARC board because it sounded like an interesting project. Unlike his normal consulting work, Brookwood said he's not getting paid for his participation on the board.

He notes Sun's open hardware initiative is "totally different" from what other chipmakers are doing to open up aspects of their hardware designs. For example, AMD  has a program called Torrenza that encourages other companies to make coprocessors designed to boost the performance of AMD's Opteron processor.

"There's no comparison," Brookwood told internetnews.com. "AMD is willing to license portions of the technology they develop to third parties. Sun is talking about making it possible for people to go off and build their own SPARC processors based on Sun designs and enhance them."

Open source projects are predominantly in the software area, giving rise to such innovative, community-driven programs as the Linux operating system. Sun itself has an OpenSolaris project and has been making elements of its Java programming language open source. Sun has said it plans to make most of Java open source in 2007.