RealTime IT News

Sun Returns to SPARC

Sun Microsystems is revisiting its bread and butter customers with new servers based on its latest UltraSPARC IV chip.

The company said it began shipping Sun Enterprise 2900, 4900, 6900, 20000 and 25000 servers today to complement the Sun Fire V490 and V890, which started shipping last week.

Each one comes with at least one UltraSPARC IV 1.35 GHz processor and runs the latest version of Solaris 10. Sun said it already has customers installing the servers into their networks but did not name names or mention how many had been involved in the proof-of-concept process.

"Each of the upgraded servers will be compatible with the latest version of Solaris in order to take full advantage of all its new features and functionality while supporting existing versions to ensure customer's investments are protected," David Yen, Sun executive vice president, said in a statement.

The launch is a marked change from Sun's current drive to sell its AMD Opteron-based servers. In just a year, Sun has become the biggest seller of AMD Opteron, IT analysts at Forrester Research found. Fadi Azhari, Sun's group manager for scalable systems, called the new UltraSPARC servers "crucial" for the company's SPARC/Solaris strategy.

"If you look at our install base, this represents the bulk of the business that Sun has," Azhari told internetnews.com. "This is not a ground-breaking architecture but it denotes the commitment of Sun to offer better throughput."

Sun is also preparing to release the second generation of its dual-core design, known as the UltraSPARC IV+. The chip is twice as fast at running applications than its existing UltraSPARC IV family, Sun said. The processor, code-named Panther, is slated to appear in Sun's midrange server family starting in mid-2005.

The new chips are part of Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun's "Throughput Computing" strategy, which the company got when it acquired Afara Websystems.

At the heart of this new strategy is Chip Multithreading (CMT), a design concept that allows the processor to execute multiple threads simultaneously. Each one can be mixed and matched with previous UltraSPARC III and UltraSPARC IV processors. To encourage updates, Sun said it is offering double trade-in values for upgrades to UltraSPARC IV technology through its Sun Upgrade Advantage Program.

Azhari said Sun plans to install several configurations of the new server chip at its testing centers in Menlo Park, Calif., Europe and Asia.

"As we upgrade our reference architecture, partners will be able to engage on the platform," Azhari said. "We will receive the most activity at the Menlo Park campus."

Sun was a bit dicey about publishing any benchmarks in relationship to the release. In a press briefing, the company discounted initial claims that the new UltraSPARC IV ran 37 percent better than previous UltraSPARC chips.

It also recanted its Lotus Domino R6iNotes benchmark claims against similarly configured IBM Power5 systems, which Azhari identified as UltraSPARC's biggest competitor.

The company did acknowledge Intel's Itanium processors but did not supply any benchmark results citing the slow adoption rates of the 64-bit server chip.