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Bang for buck: unknown

The SPECjbb2005 test doesn't include price metrics for configurations (but they damned sure ought to), so there is no easy way to do price/performance analysis without spending a lot of time. Neither Sun nor IBM are eager to talk about pricing for the Unix iron, by the way.

Considering the whole low-power, high-performance angle that Sun has been pushing for years with its Niagara series of servers using the Sparc T processors, it seems a bit odd that Sun has not opted to run the SPECpower_ssj2008 benchmark on the machines, which not only gauges performance, but performance per watt as a machine is loaded up with work.

In May, Sun did test its Netra X4250 servers based on the old Harpertown L5408 quad-core Xeons using the SPECpower_ssj2008 benchmark, which is an odd choice given that the much more powerful Nehalem EP Xeon 5500s were already out and available in other Sun boxes.

And you would think that Sun would definitely want to show off the new 1.6GHz Sparc T2 and T2+ processors on this power/performance metric, as well. But no one answers questions at Sun these days, so it remains a mystery why Sun does what it does and doesn't do what it doesn't do.

The useful part about Sun's recent SPECjbb2005 benchmark tests is that they show that slightly higher clock speeds, when coupled with a main-memory bump, can deliver a significant goose in Java performance within the Niagara server line.

Last fall, Sun tested a Sparc T5440 using the 1.4GHz T2+ chips with 128GB of memory, and it delivered 692,736 BOPS. The faster 1.6GHz machine with double the main memory was able to do 841,380 BOPS, as we pointed out above, which is 21.5 per cent more BOPS for 13 per cent more clocks. Not a bad trade, if you can afford the extra memory.

Similarly, a single-socket Sun Blade T6300 blade server tested in May 2007 with the 1.4GHz T1 processor and configured with 32GB of main memory was able to crank through 96,523 BOPS on the SPECjbb2005 test, but the current Sun Blade T6320 configuration using 1.6GHz chips (that's a jump of two generations, not one) handles 229,576 BOPS. That is a factor of 2.4X more oomph, which is nothing to be ashamed of in a two-year time frame.

Clearly Sun needs to keep making leaps like that, and this was apparently the plan with the Rainbow Falls Sparc T3 chips, which are expected to have 16 cores per chip and 16 threads per core as well as expanding to eight-socket systems. Should Sun keep the processing speeds more or less the same - oh, let’s be optimistic and say that Sun can get the Sparc T3 chips up to 2 GHz if they survive the budget axe at Oracle - then that is twice as many threads per core, twice as many cores per socket, twice as many sockets per system, and a 25 per cent clock speed goose.

If you assume the threads and cores get you maybe 50 per cent more oomph, and the SMP expandability from four to eight sockets gets you maybe another 50 per cent, then a top-end Sparc T3 server might be able to do close to three times as much work as the current four-socket T2+ box. Or, in the case of the SPECjbb2005 test, probably somewhere around 2.4 million BOPS. You would expect a 2,048-thread box to do well on multithreaded code like Java.

IBM's top-end Power 595, using 5GHz Power6 processors and deploying 64 cores and 128 threads, was tested in March 2008 on the SPECjbb2005 test and was able to deliver 3.44 million BOPS. And while IBM has some very big Power7 iron on the way, Oracle will apparently be taking its midrange box up into enterprise territory with the T3 systems, especially now that the Rock UltraSparc-RK chips and their servers seem to be dead in the water.

And the real competition might be something clever, like the box coming out of 3Leaf. ®

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