Sun Fire Gets an UltraSPARC Refresh

SAN FRANCISCO — Sun Microsystems is quickly
revamping its Sun Fire server family with its latest UltraSPARC processors,
the company said Friday.

The systems vendor said it is currently
shipping two new 1.05/1.2 GHz UltraSPARC IV Sun Fire servers — the v480 and
the v880 — to partners today. It expects to announce
volume shipping of the two units to coincide with the company’s quarterly
hardware/software update (NC04 Q3) later this month. Specific attributes and
final pricing were not disclosed, but Sun said that the baseline systems
would sell for less than $50,000.

During a briefing with press and analysts, Andy Ingram, Sun vice
president of marketing, said Sun has already benchmarked the systems and can
lay claim to world record times with systems running Manugistics, SAP AG
and the SPECompL2001.

The two revised units highlight Sun’s efforts to keep its data- and
network-intensive products up to snuff. Already this year, the company has equipped
its Sun Fire E2900, E4900, E6900, E20K and E25K with the latest UltraSPARC
IV chips. Each of the systems can scale from 12 to 72 processors with as
many as 144 threads of throughput computing.

Sun said it feels like its succeeded in selling the upgrade from
UltraSPARC III versions of the Sun Fire v880 and v480 — two very popular
sellers according to market research firm IDC’s quarterly server tracker
report for May 2004. The same report is giving a gold star to Sun, which is
expected to reach unit shipments in excess of 307,000 for the current
quarter. The company would not confirm the numbers citing SEC restrictions,
but did say that IDC’s numbers do include its UltraSPARC and Opteron

“Sun’s latest UltraSPARC IV servers demonstrate that there’s lots of life
left in Sun and in the descendents of the SPARC architecture and vision,”
Michael Dortch, a market analyst with IT research firm Robert Frances Group,
told “These servers, along with anticipated future
UltraSPARC enhancements and performance increases, should give Intel and its
partners much to consider.

However, Dortch noted that few IT executives keep their jobs for buying
chips, no matter how powerful. They buy solutions, and Sun and its partners
must work out pricing for those solutions that “look and feel” more
preferential than predatory.

“It may be time to once again revisit the ‘power unit’ concept, or for
companies such as Oracle to consider trading incremental per-core revenues
for more happy enterprise customers,” Dortch said.

Going forward, Ingram said that
the first UltraSPARC IV power bump should come sometime in the next nine months
and that systems based on its upcoming 90-nanometer (nm) UltraSPARC IV+ and UltraSPARC
IIIi+ processors should debut some nine months after that.

“We are aggressively going after Wall Street with this upcoming batch of
announcements,” Ingram told

In comparison to other enterprise semiconductors, Sun is well ahead of
the curve when it comes to multi-core products. IBM is also
leading the category with its Power Processors, with AMD and
Intel lagging behind with their Opteron and Xeon chips,
respectively. As for Intel’s Itanium, Ingram took a classic Sun swipe at the
chip giant’s week of chip talk.

“Even their partners are asking questions about the long-term viability of
Itanium,” Ingram said. “Besides, Intel doesn’t own the operating system like
we do.”

Ingram also confirmed that Sun is preparing a version of Solaris that
would run on IBM’s Power processors, while the company’s plans for the
Solaris operating system on Itanium has been shelved for undisclosed

SPARC Road Map Approaches 90nm

The UltraSPARC IV announcement also tips Sun’s hand when it comes to
its roadmap for its signature processors.

The company reiterated its UltraSPARC IV+ processor will be two times
faster than its current UltraSPARC IV.

The company is also preparing its co-development partnership with Tokyo-based
Fujitsu. Starting in 2006, the two companies that supply SPARC-based servers
are expected to begin rolling out their joint Advanced Product Line (APL),
also known as Olympus. As previously
, the three-year initiative wraps a 20-year partnership around next-generation,
64-bit RISC chips. The joint 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 Tokyo-based Fujitsu with
low- to mid-range servers from Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun. 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.

However Ingram would only say that Niagara would be built on the popular
manufacturing process of the day when it debuts. While Sun has put the
90nm process on its to-do list, the company might be inclined to use
65nm technology if it thought it could use it to an advantage.

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