Oracle to invest in Sparc iron, clusters
No onesies and twosies
If you were expecting a huge amount of detail on Oracle's plans for Sun processors, servers, and storage products at the five-hour mega-event held in San Francisco today, you'll be disappointed. But if you're a Sun customer, you'll be relieved to know that Oracle at least said it will invest in Sparc and x64 servers, storage, operating systems, and other technologies.
That's something that Sun itself has not done in a very long time. And in hindsight, Sun hasn't really talked about its future since former chief executive officer Jonathan Schwartz, fired 6,000 employees  and opened up takeover talks with IBM  back in November 2008, before Big Blue walked away, setting up the $7.4bn takeover by Oracle.
The point is: Sun has not said much about its product roadmaps for more than a year. It hasn't even admitted that it killed off its high-end UltraSparc-RK "Rock" processors and their 'Supernova" systems, which happened sometime in the middle of last year after Oracle started its takeover.
What we learned at the event today is that Oracle is dead serious about building integrated systems. Charles Phillips - the co-president at Oracle who had an extra-marital affair outed by a former girlfriend on New York City billboards last week  - kept his sense of humor as well as his sense of purpose. "We're pumped," Phillips said after telling the crowd that Oracle had actually closed the deal yesterday. "Hopefully, you have had a slightly smoother week that I have."
As El Reg reported earlier , Phillips said that Oracle was the one and only IT company that can put together a complete integrated stack, from hardware out to application software and said that it was Oracle's intention to build integrated systems and get away from best of breed integration of components that IBM's Global Services behemoth gets rich on.
"That's very unreliable, and very unpredictable," Phillips explained, saying that Oracle wanted to return to IBM's roots in the 1960s - something Oracle has been saying since launching the takeover last April - with an integrated system that Phillips called "the gold standard" for the computer industry.
Phillips said that Oracle would increase its research and development budget this fiscal year, to $4.3bn, up 54 per cent from last year and due predominately to the acquisition of Sun, and the key purpose was to re-energize the key hardware and software assets at Sun and to provide the tools and support that make an integrated Sun-Oracle system less costly and easier to support. "We're going to make Sun the gold standard for servers underneath our products," Phillips said. "We're going to invest in this."
Phillips confirmed reports  that Oracle would hire 2,000 engineers, sales people, and marketeers to help create and peddle Sun's products. To pay for the extra research and development, sales, and marketing investments, Oracle is going to eliminate Sun's back office operations - that's what it always does with acquisitions - and it will streamline Sun's parts supply chain and manufacturing operations, pare down and organize Sun's support operations and align them with Oracle's, and shift to direct sales at the top 1,700 global Sun accounts.
(Later in the call, Larry Ellison, Oracle's chief executive officer, said that Oracle would be taking over the top 4,000 accounts. Go figure).
Oracle will also move away from Sun's recently implemented general sales approach - where sales reps pushed all Sun products - and go back to using sales specialists in servers, storage, and tape.
"We want to have more direct relationships with our strategic customers," Phillips said, adding that Oracle wanted to compensate sales reps based on margins, not on revenues, and have "the best paid sales reps in the industry." Or as he calls them, Derek Jeters.
"We're going direct, and we're getting back in front of customers," Phillip said as he pitched the 2,000 job openings. "We're going to pay you more and you're bored doing what you are doing right now anyway."
John Fowler, who used to be general manager of Sun's Systems Group when it was an independent company, is now executive vice president of hardware engineering at Oracle and seems to be the highest-ranking Sunner to make the jump. (Mike Splain, who had been running Sun Microelectronics, the chip arm of Sun that bounced in and out of the Systems Group over the years, is a senior vice president of Oracle Microelectronics).
"What a long and strange journey it has been," Fowler said as he took the stage to go through the Oracle hardware business that he now runs. "I can tell you that the engineers are champing at the bit."
They'd better be, because Oracle has a lot of work to knock its hardware product lines into shape.
Say no to commodity
Phillips stole some of Fowler's server thunder - he is the boss, so he can do that - when he said that Oracle was not putting the future of Sun's hardware business on the commodity x64 server racket, as Sun's own chiefs had done back in 2004 as a means of bolstering the company. "We're not too interested in being in the commodity x86 Windows market," Phillips said. "Other companies - Dell and so forth - are good at that. Let them do it."
Fowler didn't say much more about Oracle's x64 server plans, other than to add that the company would be focusing development in x64 machinery on enterprise-class products used in clusters and was more interested in engineering systems "from application to disk."
As El Reg has been guessing for some time, Oracle is going to hunker down with the Sparc T series of multicore chips for entry, midrange, and clustered systems. In a call after the five-hour event with the press, Fowler could not bring himself to say the Rock chip was dead, but merely said that Oracle had "streamlined down" to the CMT processors, by which he meant the T Series. (Of course, Rock was supposed to be a 16-core chip multithreaded processor as well, but that is beside the point).
In his presentation, Fowler said that there were upgrades on the way for systems based on both the Sparc T series (now made by Oracle) and the Sparc64 chips made by Fujitsu and put into the Sparc Enterprise M midrange and high-end SMP servers that are sold by both Sun and Fujitsu. This seemed to imply that Sun and/or Oracle had extended a co-development agreement with Fujitsu, but maybe not. An upgrade of the quad-core Sparc64-VII+ chip is already in the works, and Fowler did not even mention Fujitsu's eight-core "Venus" Sparc64-VIII processor.
What Fowler did say is that Oracle could field Sparc machines that had one to four processors and up to hundreds of threads and terabytes of memory and that it was committed to delivering machines with thousands of threads and double-digit terabytes of main memory. He added that Oracle's engineers, both on the hardware and software side, would be focused on application performance because this is what the customers care about.
Fowler brought Splain up on stage after a while, and he presented a very skinny Sparc roadmap, one with far less detail than the one Sun was showing customers back in June 2009 , as El Reg previously reported.
The new Oracle Sparc roadmap shows the UltraSparc T3, also known by its code-name "Rainbow Falls," coming out this year based on 40 nanometer processes with double the number of cores of the T2+ chip, an improved floating point unit, improved security, expanded cache, and faster memory. Sun talked a bit about Rainbow Falls at the Hot Chips conference last summer .
The next generation of Sparc T chips will have a new core, run at higher frequencies, be implemented in a 40 nanometer process, and be compatible with Sparc T3 systems, and the focus here will be on improving application response time, according to Splain. If I had to guess, this refers to a chip called "Yosemite Falls," which was due in late 2011 and which hopefully will be moved up. Let's call it the Sparc T4 so we don't get lost.
After that comes a future Sparc T chip using the new core, but packing more of them on a chip and running them at higher frequencies, and if I had to guess, that looks like "Cascade Falls," which on the old Sun roadmap was die in late 2012 and had 16 cores and eight threads per core.
Today, Oracle said that this next-generation chip - let's call it the T4+ - would have more cores, higher clock speeds, larger cache memories, a next-generation memory controller, new I/O, and more sophisticated power management; the aim here is to have increased system throughput compared to earlier Sparc T machines. This chip will use 28 nanometer processes, too.
Further out, there is yet another Sparc chip, also in 28 nanometer processes, with higher clock frequencies, much larger caches, plus the next generation memory and I/O support and the ability to expand beyond more sockets. An "improved everything" chip, as the Oracle Sparc roadmap put it.
This chip does not appear to be the Cascade Falls or Yellowstone Falls chip, the latter of which was due in 2012 originally with four cores, eight threads, and supporting from 4 to 192 sockets in a single system image. I just don't believe that Oracle is going to create such a huge box, unless it is using a 120 Gb/sec InfiniBand switch as an SMP backplane and it is really a glorified cluster.
Not that there is anything wrong with a glorified cluster, so long as it looks and smells like an SMP or NUMA server to the operating system and applications.
Beyond this, Splain was all excited about Oracle having four chips in development at the same time, as if this had never happened before. And he added that within the next 12 to 15 months, a faster Sparc64-VII+ chip was due. At 3 GHz compared to the current 2.88 GHz, as the original Sun roadmap from June 2009 showed, don't get too excited. And Oracle did nothing to clear up what happens to the Sparc64-based product line beyond this point.
Cindy Reese, the senior vice president at Oracle in charge of the Sun supply chain, said that Oracle was shifting its new hardware manufacturing operation from a build-to-stock manufacturing operation, typical of a channel-focused company, to a build-to-order operation, typical of one that has direct relations with its customers.
Oracle has already cut back on the Sun product line by 50 per cent, according to Reese, in preparation for the acquisition, and by simplifying its supply chain it can cut its manufacturing partners in half and save money while negotiating better prices. Sun will also be able to build and distribute in fewer locations, and be able to carry much smaller inventories.
All of these things - as well as getting out in front of Oracle and Sun customers who now know that Sun is not going to go bankrupt or be eaten by IBM or Hewlett-Packard and have its products killed - are key to making the Sun division profitable for Oracle. ®