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Sun and Fujitsu hint at Sparc futures

Better roadmaps needed for safe speeding

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As part of the launch of the Sparc T5440 midrange server this week in San Francisco, top brass from both Sun Microsystems and Fujitsu spent some time assuring customers that the companies' chip and systems partnership going strong and that both were working away on Sparc processors that would end up in future systems.

The details, however, were vague, and for many, they didn't inspire the kind of confidence that a three-year roadmap with lots of details would have. But you get what they give in IT. That's how you know you are the customer and not the vendor.

Tatsuo Tomita, corporate senior executive vice president (and board member) at Fujitsu, said the company has enjoyed being a Sun partner for 20 years, liked being able to sell both its Sparc64-based M series machines and Sun's Sparc T-based entry and midrange boxes, and looked forward to a partnership that would last for 20 years or longer.

Tomita said that another Sparc Enterprise M server would be launched by the end of the month - presumably the 2U "Ikkaku" single-socket machine that will be sold as the Sparc Enterprise M3000. The server will have a single "Jupiter" Sparc64-VII processor with the four cores running at 2.53 GHz and 5 MB of L2 cache on the chip. It is expected to have eight DDR2 memory slots (for a maximum of 64 GB), four PCI-Express slots, four on-board Gigabit Ethernet ports, an on-board RAID disk controller, and room for four 2.5-inch SAS drives in the chassis.

Tomita also lifted the curtain on the future Sparc64 chips under development, kickers to the "Jupiter" quad-core Sparc64 VII processors announced in July. The Jupiter chips use a 65 nanometer process and basically have twice the core count and more on-chip cache because Fujitsu moved from the 90-nanometer process with the dual-core Sparc64 VI chips. According to past roadmaps, the Jupiter chips were designed to scale to 2.7 GHz, but these were only delivered thus far at 2.15 GHz, 2.4 GHz, and 2.52 GHz speeds.

The most recent Sun roadmap I can find (from January 2008) shows its kicker, the Jupiter+ or Sparc64 VII+ chip, coming out in mid-2009 at 3 GHz with the same core and thread count (four cores, eight threads total per chip) and using the same 65 nanometer process. But Fujitsu is apparently backing off on this speed a little and maybe pushing the delivery time out too.

"In a year, we will be introducing the Sparc64 VII+ processor running at 2.8 GHz to our customers," explained Tomita. "After this release, we plan to deliver another enhancement to the Sparc64 product line."

Presumably that means a shift to 45 nanometer or 40 nanometer processes and maybe more cores. Fujitsu has not yet said.

One more interesting thing that Tomita did not say while he was up on stage: That Fujitsu would sell servers based on next year's "Rock" UltraSparc-RK multicore processors.

As for the kickers to the "Victoria Falls" Sparc T2+ chips used in the latest entry and midrange T-class gear designed by Sun, there will be some kickers too, and Rock, which should have been here by now, is still on the way for a second half 2009 delivery.

Rick Hetherington, chief technology officer at Sun's Microelectronics group, said that Rock was in "post-silicon analysis." That may sound like therapy for servers, but it's one of many steps on the way to a final chip. The Rock chip will have 16 cores and will support up to 256 TB of main memory (in theory, that is) and will be used in a line of servers code-named "Supernova" that were supposed to be on the market by now, if not earlier. The delay in the Rock chip, one of many that Sun has suffered through, has given new life to the Sparc64 VI and Sparc64 VII products, which were themselves delayed.

Sun's January 2008 roadmap showed Rock chips being available in the late third quarter or early fourth quarter of 2009, running at 2.1 GHz. Heaven knows how accurate this is today, particularly since the scout threading and transactional memory technologies that Rock uses are so far untested.

Hetherington said at the T5440 event that Sun was approaching the tape out moment on the kickers to the Sparc T2+ chips and that the company will be adding more cores and more threads with the next generation.

Back in June, we reported on the third generation of Niagara chips, code-named KT but generally called Niagara-3 and probably sold as the Sparc T3 when it gets here in late 2009. The Niagara-3 chips are expected to come out with 16 cores with 16 threads each, and servers are expected to scale to eight in a single system image for a total of 2,048 threads. That is a lot of logical domain partitions, at one per thread. Service providers, long fans of Sparc iron and Solaris, might eat that right up. Anyway, tape out was expected by the end the year or so for the Niagara-3. ®

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