Sun Amps Up Midrange Server Offerings

Sun Microsystems on Monday introduced its newest line of midrange servers aimed at the high-volume transaction market, sporting a far lower price, lower cost of ownership and what it claims is far better performance than the competition.

The new system is the SPARC Enterprise T5440 and comes in two- or four-socket configurations. The runs Sun’s eight-core UltraSparc T2 Plus processor, otherwise known as the “Niagara 2” processor, which has been tweaked to support two or more processors in a server.

While Sun (NASDAQ: JAVA) might be ailing, the new release signals an even greater reliance on its UltraSPARC T2 processor family, which debuted last October and is already proving to lucrative for the company. The processor family has become a $1 billion business with an annual growth rate of about 60 percent, growing both quarter-over-quarter and year-over-year, according to CEO Jonathan Schwartz.

In particular, the Chip MultiThreading (CMT) in UltraSPARC T2 Plus is one of Sun’s best bets for the future, according to Nancy Riley, product marketing manager in the company’s systems group. “That takes it up into the midrange, which is dominated by Unix,” she told

The midrange is defined by IDC as servers costing between $50,000 and $500,000; prices for the T5440 start at $44,995.

Price isn’t the only key differentiator for the SPARC Enterprise T5440, with the new lineup claiming seven world record benchmarks in a variety of tests based on business applications. The T5440 server scored a 7,520 on SAP SD Standard Application Benchmark, compared to 4,101 by an IBM p570 and 1,750 from an HP Integrity rx6600 running the Itanium2 processor.

Other benchmark results, such as those from Siebel CRM 8.0 PSPP, SPECjbb2005, SPECjAppServer2004 and SPECint_rate2006, SPECfp_rate2006 and SPECompL2001_rate2006, were all far and away above what the competition offers.

Feature lineup

The 4U chassis T5440 supports up to four processors, which translates into 32 cores and 256 threads, since each processor has eight cores and each core handles eight threads. It can handle up to 512GB of memory and has 2.5-inch drive bays for local storage — both hard disks and eventually, solid-state drives.

The T5440 will only run Solaris, Sun’s flavor of Unix. The servers will support virtualization both through hardware, by way of its Logical Domains (LDoms), and through software, with Solaris Containers.

The launch comes as the latest chapter in Sun’s storied history. For the last few quarters, the company’s fortunes have mostly followed a downward trend, with stalling sales for the once-dominant player in the RISC-based server market. Every quarter, IDC and Gartner show the company losing ground to Intel-based products from Dell and HP or IBM’s POWER-based systems.

Still, the trends make little sense to Nathan Brookwood, research fellow with Insight 64.

“Look at all the world records they talked about today,” he told “Three years ago, tell me a record Sun had in performance that jumped ahead of the competition even for a second.”

He said the change has been due to Sun taking a very different approach in chip design, focusing on simple processor cores with lots of threads and great sensitivity to memory latency. The result is its chips don’t need huge caches like x86 processors, because they talk to the memory so quickly.

“They have the only CPU around today that instead of fighting memory latency, embraces it and utilizes it in a certain way for performance. For transactional processing, that’s a powerful story,” Brookwood said. He said it’s a disappointment to see Sun overlooked when it has an increasingly strong product line that’s refreshed regularly.

Sun acknowledges it’s been a little too concentrated in too few markets, and hasn’t had much presence overseas, which is where all today’s growth is often found.

But perhaps the T5440 will change that, Riley added.

“We’re hoping to expand CMT into enterprise-class applications that we have never been able to touch before.”

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