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Sun, Fujitsu crank Sparc64-VII clocks

Sparc roadmap? Don't hold your breath

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While Sun Microsystems has been muzzled by Oracle to not talk in specifics about the future of the Sparc server line, Sun and its server partner, Fujitsu, can nonetheless keep enhancing their jointly sold midrange and high-end server Sparc Enterprise machines, and at the OpenWorld customer event in San Francisco this morning, the two hardware vendors said they had boosted the performance on servers using quad-core Sparc64-VII processors.

Specifically, the clock speeds on the Sparc64-VII chips used in the midrange M4000 and M5000 servers (which are really Fujitsu boxes that have Sun labels slapped on them when Sun sells them) now have processors that can run at 2.53 GHz, up from 2.4 GHz. The newer rev on the quad-core Sparc64-VII chip boosts the L2 cache on the chip to 5.5 MB, up from the 5 MB of cache available on the 2.4 GHz version of the quad-core chip and the 2.15 GHz dual-core Sparc64-VI processors that predate both of these chips.

The M4000 and M5000 servers, which offer four and eight processor sockets, respectively, allow for processor boards (with two sockets each) to be mixed and matched within the same system, a feature that is unique among high-end server makers that tend to have designs that force processors to be at the same generation and speed within an SMP setup. Anyway, the extra clocks and cache should boost performance by about 5 percent or so.

While a base M4000 using two dual-core 2.15 GHz Sparc64-VI processors, 16 GB of memory, and two 146 GB disks sells for $29,850, bumping that machine up to two quad-core 2.53 GHz Sparc64-VII processors and doubling up the memory to 32 GB raises the price to $42,980. And putting in the full four 2.53 GHz Sparc64-VII processors (still with 32 GB of memory) jacks the price on this midrange four-socket server to $66,380.

The M5000, being inherently twice as scalable to a total of eight processor sockets, costs more in a base configuration of two 2.15 GHz Sparc64-VIs, 16 GB of memory, and two disks; $45,080, to be precise, and that means the ability to scale to eight sockets and twice as much main memory has a price tag of $15,230. With four of the new 2.53 GHz Sparc64-VIIs, the M5000 costs $81,880 with 32 GB of memory and two disks, and with eight if these processors (for a total of 32 cores), a machine with 64 GB and two disks runs to $149,340.

Solaris 10 is preloaded on these boxes and included in the price. And at these prices, that should also include at least a year's worth of maintenance and something on the order of a 25 to 30 per cent discount as a starting negotiation price.

The high-end M8000 and M9000 servers designed by Fujitsu were already running quad-core Sparc64-II processors at a 2.52 GHz clock speed, and these have just been cycled down to the M4000 and M5000s for today's announcement. And as El Reg reported in an exclusive back in September, the rev of the quad-core Sparc64 chips from Fujitsu to 2.88 GHz that was announced today was actually expected around now.

And when the Sparc64-VII clocks are cranked again to 3 GHz sometime in late 2010 or early 2011 on these quad-core processors, you can expect that the 3 GHz chips will appear first in the M8000 servers (which scales up to 16 sockets) and the M9000s (which comes in two variants, one that scales to 32 sockets and another that goes up to 64 sockets) and today's 2.88 GHz chips will be pushed down into the M4000 and M5000s. Beyond that, Fujitsu has plans for the APL2 server in mid-2012, probably using the eight-core "Venus" Fujitsu Sparc64-VIII processors, but as of this past June, Sun had made no commitment to these boxes - at least not to the biggest customers who had been given the Sparc roadmap.

The prior 2.52 GHz quad-core Sparc64s used in the M8000s and M9000s had 6 MB of L2 cache on chip, and so does the 2.88 GHz version. The M8000 and M9000 servers support earlier dual-core Sparc64-VI chips running at 2.28 GHz or 2.4 GHz as well as the earlier quad-core chips running at 2.52 GHz. Oddly, the new 2.88 GHz quad-core chip, you will read in the fine print in Sun's tech specs, is only available in fully configured 64-socket boxes. (Like a potato chip, with the Sparc64-VII chip, you can't have just one. You gotta eat the whole bag). The M8000 can be configured with however many 2.88 GHz chips you want. Go figure.

The 2.88 GHz version of the Sparc64-VII processors have also been equipped with a new memory controller, according to Sun and Fujitsu, which boosts throughput on systems with memory-intensive workloads. The clock speed bump alone should be worth 14.3 per cent more oomph, but Sun said in a statement that the newer chips offered "up to 25 per cent" more performance, so presumably it meant on the bigger M8000 and M9000 machines with the tweaked memory controller, with the memory controller contributing a little more than 10 per cent of the throughput boost.

Pricing on the M8000s and M9000s is not available to the public.

As El Reg previously reported, Sun is offering various deals on upgrades from older UltraSparc and Sparc64 iron to the new newer Sparc64 machinery through December 31, which shave prices by 20 per cent. A deal that gave customers a free chassis on an M8000 or M9000 server (worth a stunning $600,000 according to Sun's list prices) expired on September 30.

But rest assured, given this crap economy and the fact that Oracle has not closed the Sun deal and Sun is desperate for revenues, anyone looking to shell out millions of dollars for a big Sun-Fujitsu Sparc box can probably get the salesperson to reanimate that deal. Ditto for the double upgrade promotion, which also expired on September 30. ®

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