Sun takes four-socket Victoria Falls Sparc plunge
The iron roars tonight
Sun Microsystems and server partner Fujitsu have announced a four-socket mid-range server based on the Victoria Falls Sparc T2+ processor, following weeks of strong hints.
Fujitsu did most of the engineering on the Sparc Enterprise M servers sold by both companies and based on the quad-core Sparc64 VII processor. However, the Niagara family of Sparc T series processors and their related Enterprise T family of servers are really created by Sun.
The Sparc Enterprise T5440 server announced today gives Sparc shops a credible box on which to run applications originally coded for UltraSparc-II and UltraSparc-III platforms, and probably still running on Solaris 8 or Solaris 9.
Sun's Fowler: quarterly growth for Niagara,
The T5440 is a lot more compact, has as much or more processing oomph - depending on the workload and the comparison you want to make - and it is a lot less expensive than Sun's UltraSparc-IV platforms of a few years back. The latter were machines that many Sparc customers decided not to move because their performance was weak compared to other RISC/Unix or x64/Linux alternatives and the pricing was a whole lot worse for an equivalent amount of performance.
For those shops who are using vintage Sparc iron, and maybe even more recent dual-core UltraSparc-IV and UltraSparc-IV+ boxes, the T5440 is the kind of midrange box that Sun should have put into the field years ago.
At the T5440 launch event in San Francisco, John Fowler, executive vice president of Sun's systems group, touted the 50 to 80 per cent quarterly growth that the Niagara family of servers posted in the past four quarters. What Fowler did not say - a least from what I heard - is what other Sun execs have confirmed in the past: that the Niagara server line has a $1.3bn annual revenue rate.
While the Niagara growth is large, it is starting from a small revenue base and even with the $1.3bn in sales, the combination of Sun's Niagara machines plus its Galaxy x64 servers, which are selling at around $500m a year, is not enough to push the company to profitability. That's because legacy Sparc platform sales are declining just as fast as these products are growing.
With the quad-socket Victoria Falls server, Sun is clearly hoping that Niagara gear can continue to eat in to the legacy Solaris base. Maybe even extend some sales into established Unix and Linux accounts and newbie companies that are picking their first commercial-grade platforms.
Having a fairly large amount of aggregate computing power (256 threads, running at 1.2GHz or 1.4GHz) and up to 512GB of main memory in a 4U chassis doesn't hurt Sun's prospects. And neither does the ability to support Solaris 8 and Solaris 9 instances inside Solaris 10 containers, a feature that came out in the Solaris 10 5/08 update back in May.
One of the big issues for some Solaris customers is they did not want to move their applications from Solaris 8 or Solaris 9, no matter what hardware Sun delivered and no matter how cheaply Sun delivered it. Now, Sun has relatively inexpensive entry and midrange Niagara boxes and a way to support Solaris 8 and Solaris 9 applications inside Solaris 10 without forcing customers to port and recertify those apps.
With the two-socket Sparc T2+ server, Sun took a Sparc T2 chip, which has eight eight-threaded cores, and removed two on-chip memory controllers and the integrated Neptune 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports; these features were replaced with symmetric multiprocessing links that use some of the memory lanes on the processor to couple the two caches in two T2+ chips together into a two-way processor complex.
With the four-socket machines, Sun is not linking the T2+ chips together gluelessly, but with a crossbar switch code-named Zambezi. The Sparc T2+ chips have a floating point math unit for each core, plus an on-chip cryptographic processor and 4MB of L2 cache that is shared by the cores.
From the outside, the T5440 looks exactly like the Opteron-based X4600 server. It has four small-form factor disk bays, which use hot-pluggable 2.5-inch SAS drives (73GB or 146GB), mounted vertically on the right side, as well as a CD/DVD drive right next to the disks. The rest of the front is for two large fans to cool the box.
The system board in the T5440 has slots for uniboard-style processor cards (similar to the boards Sun has used in Sparc-based servers for several generations and in the X4600); from one to four of these processor cards, which have 16 memory slots each, can plug into the box.
The processor cards can be equipped with 1.2GHz or 1.4GHz Sparc T2+ chips, and the Fully Buffered DIMM main memory runs at full speed regardless if 1GB, 2GB, 4GB, or 8GB DIMMs are used. In many high-end server designs, as memory capacity goes up, the memory speed has to come down.
Using 8GB DIMMs, which are quite pricey still, the maximum memory in the box scales to 512GB, but 4GB DIMMs will be the ones most commonly chosen by customers because they are a lot cheaper, and hence the economic maximum memory is really 256GB. The T5440 has up to four hot-swap power supplies and four fans, up to eight PCI-Express x8 peripheral slots, and four Gigabit Ethernet ports.
A base configuration of the T5440 comes with two 1.2GHz T2+ chips (128 threads), 32GB of memory (using 2GB DIMMs), and two 146GB disks costs $44,995. An T5440 with four 1.2GHz chips (256 threads), 64GB of memory, and the two drives costs $79,995, while a machine with four of the faster 1.4GHz chips and 128GB of memory (using 4GB DIMMs) and two disks costs $132,995.
All the machines come with Solaris 10 bundled on them. Sun said it can ship an ordered box in nine days, and is offering its 60-day free trial on the T5440 as well.
Sun and IBM, which have both revamped their midrange RISC/Unix products in the past year, are making all sorts of claims on who gives the best performance and bang for the buck. Sorting out the claims will be the subject of an upcoming series of stories.
What Sun has said is that is relation to its own Sparc T platforms is that is could deliver about 1.9 times the performance when doubling up on the processor count in the Niagara machines from one to two sockets, and that moving from two to four chips it could deliver about 1.8 times the performance.
When you do the math, clock for clock, a four socket T440 will yield 3.4 times the performance of a single-socket machine - about what you would expect from SMP scalability on other boxes.®