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Big SPARC boxes, big architecture

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Fujitsu Siemens Computers (FSC) is cranking up the processor speeds with its new PRIMEPOWER SPARC-based servers.

There are three new members of the PRIMEPOWER XA family, models 900, 1500 and 2500 and they scale up from 4 to 128 CPUs. They all run on Solaris 8 or 9, "an absolutely stable operating system," FSC says. The boxes also incorporate "eXtended Architecture," introducing some mainframe robustness to this high-powered Unix line. More of which later.

First the CPUS: the new boxes, out next March, will incorporate 1.3GHz SPARC 64 V chips, up from today's 563MHz flavours. So there's an immediate performance boost there. Better-performing CPUs could mean savings on software licences, especially with so many apps and database firms imposing per-processor costs these days.

There's also big leap in internal bandwidth from 57.GB/sec to 133GB/sec achieved through improvements in crossbar performance. And there should be enough I/O connectivity on the 2500 for most requirements- it has 320 PCI ports, up from today's 192. With the PRIMEPOWER XAs Fujitsu Siemens has decoupled the I/O from the system boards, making it a relatively trivial task to upgrade to those fat new I/O architectures as they come on stream.

This is one of a series of improvements to the server line's design. The new Unix boxes and Fujitsu mainframe systems are to incorporate the same architecture, the company says. So what does this mean for the Unix boxen? Well the mainframe buzzwords are all there in the new PRIMEPOWERs: extended partioning, extended RAS (Reliability and Serviceability) and heaps of redundancy. Also there are some 21st century buzzwords too, with clustering (a given) and autonomic self-diagnosis, self-healing features incorporated in the PRIMEPOWER XA blueprint. The upshot of all this is five nines availability for the new FSC boxes - i.e. 99.999 per cent uptime, compared with the 99.7 per cent claimed for today's generation of PRIMEPOWERs.

FSC is a relative newcomer to the Unix server segment, claiming 25,000 unit sales since it launched SPARC-based boxes in late 1999. It reckons that its market share of new installations in Europe is running at around 12 per cent, and more for high-end boxes. Customers, it says, like the fact that its boxes run, like Sun, on SPARC. This gives companies the option of a dual-vendor policy for the same enterprise apps, unlike, say, HP or IBM.

For the new PRIMEPOWERs, it claims a good business case for their purchase, the pitch revolving around utility computing and consolidation. The company is a bit hazy on details - cost savings, ROI etc. - in public at any rate, but here is the broad-brush approach, as articulated by Dr. Joseph Reger, CTO of FSC.

First, there's too much of everything - "too many locations, too many servers, too many applications". It all needs to be consolidated - fewer locations, fewer platforms, fewer servers". (Of course the inference is that you need some hefty servers, something like a PRIMEPOWER 2500 or 10, maybe, to accomplish this). The final phase of consolidation is to "reduce the number of applications involved - to get the real kickback". Next step for ROI is utility computing - "yet another way of consolidating everything that's around the world," Dr. Reger notes.

And FSC is big into utility computing, promoting capacity-on-demand services which see their customers turn on and equally importantly, turn off, CPUs, according to usage needs.

A full set of benchmarks and prices, of course, will be out early next year. ®

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