Sun Intros Fastest Server Microprocessor, Opens up Business Units
By Tom Foremski
In a bold move, Sun Microsystems on Tuesday grabbed the lead from rivals Intel and IBM with the introduction of the fastest server microprocessor, the UltraSPARC T2.
It also said that it was reorganizing its business units so that they individually have to compete in the open market in a bid to become a provider of chips, software, and systems to partners, which could include rival Hewlett-Packard.
The speed of the UltraSPARC T2 surprised analysts. It was achieved with an innovative 8 core design with each core capable of 8 threads. This is equivalent to a 64-way server system with a total of 89.6 GHz of computing power (64 times 1.4 GHz).
This computing power provides the chip with the fastest integer and floating point performance on the market, allowing it to be used in specialist scientific computing and general purpose business IT systems.
Opening up Sun
Jonathan Swartz, CEO of Sun, told Silicon Valley Watcher that Sun's business groups are being "decoupled" from each other so that they can compete in the open market against rivals on their own merits. Previously, Sun's business units were considered part of a whole, in which only Sun technologies would be combined into systems.
The new arrangement would allow partners to use the new chips with technologies from other companies. Mr Swartz said HP and IBM could become a Sun partner, for example.
Nathan Brookwood, chief analyst at Insight64, said:"Sun has achieved something remarkable. They used to be criticised for focusing on multi-threaded architectures, but now it has paid off for them and they are ahead of the competition."
The multicore, multi-threaded architecture also brings other benefits, it dramatically reduces electric power consumption allowing Sun to claim the lead in processing power per watt of electricity consumed.
Low power consumption saves greenhouse gases but more importantly for data centers, it allows more computing to be concentraed in centers where there are constraints on electric power.
Mr Brookwood added that the investment Sun makes in microprocesor development helps drive a $5bn server business.
The new chip also integrates ten security standards for faster processing, and it also has high data throughput allowing it to be used in network and data storage equipment.
Clay Ryder, chief analyst at the Sageza Group, said that the chip was impressive. "It potentially puts Sun into new markets but it will have to educate potential customers about the chip and why they would need it. In today's web services world there are many factors to consider in equipping data centers."
Data center and consumer devices
The chip is made for Sun by Texas Instruments and is priced at $1000, inexpensive for a high performance server microprocessor. Sun said it wants to enter into consumer markets too, and it will produce less expensive chips for those applications.
Mr Brookwood said that entering consumer markets where the embedded microprocessors have prices of $30 to $40 would be challenging because the qualities that make it excellent for server applications are not the same for embedded applications.
- High-throughput processing - Eight cores and eight threads per core accelerate throughput as shown by two world-record, single-chip SPEC CPU scores, based on tests that delivered 78.3 est. SPECint_rate2006 and a 62.3 est. SPECfp_rate2006.
The UltraSPARC T2 processor has twice the thread count of Sun's UltraSPARC T1 processor, which recently set a world record on ten Sun Blade T6300 Server Modules delivering 8253.21 SPECjAppServer2004 JOPS@Standard*
- Networking - Dual, virtualizable, multithreaded 10 Gigabit-per-second Ethernet ports with built-in packet classification ensure fast access to networks and server-to-server communications
- Security - Eight cryptographic acceleration units and a total of 10 independent functions address ever-heightening security needs, including NSA-approved algorithms, without a performance penalty
- Computation - Eight floating point units extend the benefits of CMT to high-performance computing workloads for scientific applications; world record single-chip SPECfp_rate2006 and world-record single-chip SPECompM2001 scores
Input/Output - Eight lanes of industry-standard PCI Express I/O speed applications like streaming media, database read/write and data back-up
- Memory access - Quad memory controllers deliver more than 50 Gigabytes-per-second of memory access
- Software support - The massively threaded Solaris OS takes excellent advantage of the highly threaded processors and enables open and cost-effective virtualization