RealTime IT News

Sun: Say You Want a Revolution?

SAN FRANCISCO -- Executives at Sun Microsystems Wednesday said the company wants to change the way the industry thinks about partitioning computer resources.

"We're about to see a revolution in what we all mean by network computing and what we mean by systems," Sun executive vice president and CTO Greg Papadopoulos told the crowd at SunNetworks Conference and Pavilion here.

In his first major address to Sun supporters since taking on the responsibilities of Sun co-founder and geek god Bill Joy, who resigned earlier this month, Papadopoulos and Sun executive vice president David Yen hyped the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company's newest scheme: Throughput Computing or chip multi-threading technology (CMT). The idea is to combine chip multithreading to allow a single processor to execute tens of threads simultaneously. Sun estimates early versions could handle some 32 threads with future models reaching triple digits.

The technology is a core part of Sun's next Ultra SPARC processor code-named "Gemini." The 64-bit processor is expected to ship to vendors later this year and debut in products in early 2004.

Papadopoulos proposed a new definition of system, composed of heterogeneous elements where the network performs like the SMPT backplate. He said Sun's N1 virtualization and provisioning platform acts as the OS of this new system, because it provides macro-virtualization of all the resources on the local network.

"The old systems are components of the new one," Papadopoulos said. "As software is increasingly developed for large groups of people at the network level, instead of being written for a single machine, computing systems must adjust."

Combine that with recent advances in processor capabilities and Papadopoulos says his company can give customers an advantage by sharing computing resources across the network, servicing a growing number of users and fundamentally re-engineering the structure of the processors themselves.

"We're experiencing a perfect storm of four big trends," Yen said. "First, network computing is thread-rich, requiring processors to make progress on the computing activities, called computational threads of multiple users simultaneously. Second, processors are already good enough. Third, memory latency, the gap between how fast the CPU is and the amount of time it takes to fetch data from memory is widening. Finally, processors have gotten more and more complex."

Yen said that Sun's CMT technology can solve these problems of latency and complexity by turning the piece of silicon into nearly one hundred percent productive engine.

"Then, the memory latency isn't such a big enemy, because you can still be productive. And guess what? Thread is one of the core competencies in Sun's Solaris operating system," he said.

If it sounds like the company is again beating "the network is the computer" drum again, it's because Sun has, of course, heralded this revolution for years.

Papadopoulos pointed to several trends that create a watershed: applications that scale to millions of users and a growing number of computers and other objects connecting to the network. Papadopoulos said that as the number of networked things grows by a factor of one million, it requires a radical transformation of software. Sun's approach is to eliminate the underlying complexity of systems by re-engineering them.

But while Sun CEO Scott McNealy likes to call this approach a "big frigging Web Tone switch," Papadopoulos said, "I call it, 'network-scaled computing.'"

Reiterating Sun's weeklong price-chopping theme, Papadopoulos said, "Better make sure that the thing you build today is a quarter the cost of what you built three years ago with better performance, or you're not playing the game right."