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Sun and Fujitsu to SPARC together

Goodbye UltraSPARC, Hello SPARC64

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Sun Network Sun Microsystems has filled a large gap in its processor roadmap and solved some financial problems by announcing today a deal with Fujitsu that will see Sun pick up Fujitsu's version of the SPARC processor for high-end servers.

With the SPARC partnership, Sun and Fujitsu have put an end to more than six months of speculation about their plans. Last year, reports surfaced, saying Sun would turn to Fujitsu for help manufacturing large multiprocessor servers, and that's exactly what has happened. Sun plans to ship systems based on Fujitsu's SPARC64 processor starting in 2006, instead of using its own UltraSPARC processor.

This deal is essentially a response to Sun's cancellation of the UltraSPARC V processor - first confirmed here. Sun has opted to go with two multicore processor designs - Niagara for low-end servers and the Rock for midrange and higher-end systems - instead of concentrating on high-performing single and dual-core chips. The problem, however, with this strategy was that Sun would not have had a direct replacement for the current UltraSPARC IV processor in 2006. The Rock family would have been the most likely replacement for UltraSPARC IV, but is not set to arrive until 2007. Analysts had picked up on this problem.

Now Sun plans to roll out SPARC64-based servers from Fujitsu in mid-2006 - just as the UltraSPARC IV ends its two-year run common for Sun's processors. The Sun/Fujitsu boxes will be binary compatible with current kit and run Sun's Solaris operating system. Fujitsu has licensed Solaris from Sun for many years and has carved out a decent-sized SPARC/Solaris business of its own. Until 2006 arrives, Sun and Fujitsu now plan to offer each others' servers to customers.

The combined Sun/Fujitsu systems will ship under the Advanced Product Line (APL) name, replacing Sun's SunFire and Fujitsu's PrimePower brands.

The deal allows Sun and Fujitsu to share the high costs of designing and manufacturing processors. This is a big plus for Sun, which has been looking to cut costs wherever possible in a bid to return to profitability. It also means that Fujitsu can take advantage of Sun's higher server volumes to cut costs.

Sources told The Register that Sun and Fujitsu were just hours away from announcing a similar deal last year. The agreement - code-named Falcon - fell through over Solaris licensing issues and other factors.

Along with financial benefits, Sun also gains a high-performing version of SPARC. Analysts have long said that Fujitsu's version of the processor runs faster than Sun's, and, in addition, Fujitsu has a long history of mainframe expertise that it has used to improve processor designs.

This move could be a partial blow to Texas Instruments, which has been the sole manufacturer of Sun's UltraSPARC chips. TI will, however, continue to make the Niagara and Rock chips, giving it the higher-volume products.

Overall, Sun should now enjoy a more competitive position against Intel, HP and IBM. Sun will be able to concentrate its investments on the Niagara chips due at the start of 2006, which will handle tasks such as Web and application serving, and its Rock processors aimed at more demanding business software. Customers wanting to stick with more traditional chips will be able to pick up Fujitsu's 90 nanometer SPARC64 product, which is chock full of mainframe goodness such as advanced error correction technology.

Sun is placing a lot of bets on its new chip technology, but, to its credit, neither Intel nor IBM have laid out equally rich processor roadmaps. Come 2007. Sun will have three, distinct RISC options tuned for various types of software workloads versus just one chip each from Intel and IBM.

Sun is expected to provide more details on the deal at its user conference here in Shanghai. ®

Related stories

Sun must replace hot air with firm chip detail - Gartner
Sun slashes Solaris x86 price for big buyers
For Sun chip chief, an empty roadmap is a clean roadmap
Sun shelves UltraSPARC V in favor of the great unknown
Sun and Fujitsu to combine Unix server businesses report

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