RealTime IT News

Sun, Fujitsu SPARC up Relationship

SAN FRANCISCO -- If you have a contract with Sun or Fujitsu or are considering a SPARC-based system, expect your next sales pitch to include a server made by the other company.

It's not some mysterious plot to undermine the bottom line of casual competitors Sun or Fujitsu. The firms are preparing for 2006. That's when the two companies that supply SPARC-based servers are expected to begin rolling out their joint Advanced Product Line or APL. The initiative is focused on 64-bit RISC chips. The effort is expected to produce servers that scale from one to multiple processors.

APL is a server product line that combines mid- to high-end traditional SMP (Symmetric Multi-Processing) systems made by Fujitsu with low- to mid-range servers from Sun. Whereas the Fujitsu APL systems will use its Olympus processor with its Jupiter system interconnects, Sun is basing its APL systems on its Niagara processor, which is a glue-less Chip Multi-Threaded system that has been pre-configured to address 14 separate case usage models such as network-centric, data-centric, compute-centric and workstations. All APL-branded servers are expected to run Solaris 10. The only subtle differences expected are in hardware such as faceplates and colors to distinguish the systems.

The road to APL, however still needs some paving as the companies need to transition several key items before 2006.

Andy Ingram, Sun vice president of marketing for scalable systems, said the sales teams will use the transition time as a testing ground since neither company wants "hiccups" in the sales cycles between now and the official APL launch.

"We're looking to find a cadence in moving from one strategy to the next and we'll use the time in steps to the APL distribution model," Ingram said during a conference call to analysts and press. "Things like part numbers, bills of material, configurations, and order flow, all have to be nailed down before the APL launch. The advantage of this is that it allows us to get our mechanisms in place before that time."

During the transition time, Sun said it is committed to building its UltraSPARC IIIi and UltraSPARC IV lines for network-centric and data-centric systems respectively. A 2X speed boost expected when Sun's UltraSPARC IV+ processor debuts later this year. Fujitsu said it would continue to build its SPARC64 V and SPARC64 V+ chips until the Olympus line is ready around the 2006 timeframe.

Sun and Fujitsu already co-market each other's products. But Ingram said the distribution of the APL is the product line that will be constant throughout the two companies going forward. The executive said the current 3-year contract is a natural minimum lifecycle that could be extended if market conditions prove favorable.

Because of its revised relationship with Fujitsu, Sun abandoned its development plans for its UltraSPARC V (code-named Millennium) and Gemini processors (based on two UltraSPARC II cores). The company said it could save more time and money because the engineering teams were independently working on the same problems. The combined efforts are now expected to take advantage of each company's strengths.

"UltraSPARC is perfect for Throughput computing. SPARC64 is good at floating point calculations, for example," Ingram said.

Beyond 2006, Sun said it will put a lot of emphasis in launching its "Rock" processor for computer-centric and workstation servers. The chip is heavily dependent on the advancements of 65-nanometer technology between now and 2008, when Rock systems are expected to debut. Ingram said Texas Instruments will continue to produce its UltraSPARC, Niagara and Rock CPUs.

"We are investing along the current core designs and memory interconnects with UltraSPARC and Niagara, but taking a different approach with Rock," Ingram said. "Generation-one of multi-thread chips like Niagara are good at reducing the latencies. That was the approach that Millennium took. It's a place that is safe and well traveled. Rock is much more risky because it is the 65nm line. We needed the investment now to get there in 2008. Buy teaming up with Fujitsu, we can get there faster."

Sun said it will continue to use contract manufacturers to build its components at the system level with the exception of its low-end units. Final system testing will take place at one of three physical locations (Hillsboro, Oregon; Linlithgow, Scotland; and Fujitsu's site in Japan outside of Tokyo) before shipping. The goal is to use the test sites as hubs to help deliver the product faster.

"Fujitsu is big in Japan and Fujitsu-Siemens is good in European accounts. There is some overlap and the two companies will compete," Ingram said. "We have our management software. They [Fujitsu] have their management software. We have our storage products relationship with Hitachi. They work with EMC."

Brian Sutphin, Sun senior vice president of Corporate Development, said Sun was working to erase any compatibility issues on the storage front with lots of testing of Sun's software and storage on Fujitsu PRIMEPOWER systems.

"There are things that sit at the application layer already that address the overall problem," Sutphin said. "They pay us to do the portability and the things that get harder are addressed by Sun Clusters. We are also committed to run down that path storage where Fujitsu has different driver stacks than we do."