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.

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