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Sun, Fujitsu to shore up Sparc in time for Itanium assault

Unified multi-processors hardware spec. due 2001-2003

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Fujitsu has announced that it has come to an arrangement with Sun to ensure both companies' future Sparc-based hardware will conform to a common reference model -- or, as we say in the trade, will become fully compatible with each other. Essentially, the deal will ensure anyone who writes software to run on a Sun box will also be able to run it on a Fujitsu machine without having to tinker with the code beforehand. Sun will apparently have to make some changes to Solaris and its own hardware specification, but the drive for compatibility is clearly coming from Fujitsu rather than Sun. "This is not a time for Sun and Fujitsu to compete," said the deputy general manager of Fujitsu's Technology Group, Hisashige Ando. "We have to work together to make [software] development more efficient." Except given Sun's success in shipping Sparc-based serves, as shown by its better-than-expected results, what we're really taking about here is Fujitsu competing with Sun rather than the other way round -- on other words, Fujitsu stands to gain rather more from the deal than Sun does. What has prompted this move is clearly Intel's drive to develop its own 64-bit processor, Itanium, and get Linux running on it from the moment the chip ships. So perhaps Sun is a little more worried about Itanium than it would have us believe. Indeed, Ando admitted the move was made to expand the development of software for the Sparc platform primarily because of the impact what he called rival 64-bit architectures could have. Of course, to a degree the two companies' systems are compatible, but Fujitsu wants to extend that to provide programmers who need to get right to the heart of one manufacturer's hardware with the knowledge that they're also getting down to the basics of the other vendor's machines too. Primarily that centres on developing the platform's ability to support ever greater numbers of Sparc CPUs operating in parallel. However, one of the extensions Ando mentioned, according to EE Times, is the addition of "instructions... to improve multimedia applications, network security and the ability to do scientific calculations". That sounds suspiciously like bringing a technology not dissimilar to Intel's Screaming SIMD Extensions (SSE) to the platform. Intel has already said Itanium will support both MMX and SSE, so again the motivation here appears to be getting Sparc ready to compete with Chipzilla's product more effectively. The upshot of the two companies' co-operation will be a reference specification which should be completed by 2003, with a preliminary version due the year after next. ®

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