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2015: 32 Sparc microprocessors on a single chip?

Posted: 12 Aug 2010 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Sparc? microprocessors? x86?

Oracle will continue developing Sparc microprocessors but focus on chips based on a single core design at a time, probably packing 32 of them in a single chip by 2015. The move is part of an overall shift to a more streamlined road map for the former Sun Microsystems which also continues to use x86 processors.

Before the acquisition by Oracle, Sun cancelled a high-end Sparc processor in development called Rock. The company maintains a relationship with Fujitsu which develops its own high-end Sparc processor used in systems sold by both companies.

Oracle will more than double performance of its own Sparc-based microprocessors every two years, said John Fowler, executive vice president for systems at Oracle. By 2015 the company will deliver Sparc systems with up to 128 cores, supporting up to 16,384 threads and 64 Terabytes memory, he said.

The plans could continue to keep Sparc ahead of IBM, Intel and Advanced Micro Devices in terms of the number of cores and threads supported in a single server chip. Engineers described Rainbow Falls, a 16-core, 128-thread Sparc chip last August at Hot Chips where IBM described its 32-core Power7 four-chip module.

The Fujitsu relationship may diminish in importance as Sun rolls out high-end M-class systems using multicore versions of its own Sparc designs. In addition, the Fujitsu systems are focused in part on cost-sensitive high performance computing markets that are traditionally not a focus for Oracle, said Nathan Brookwood, principal of market watcher Insight64.

When the Oracle acquisition was announced some observers expressed concern the database software giant might cancel Sun's Sparc program. "They have as many engineers working on Sparc today as they did two years ago before even the acquisition talk started, so they haven't cut back," said Brookwood.

In software, Oracle will release sometime in 2011 Solaris 11, the next major version of its operating system for its Sparc and x86-based systems, Fowler said. The company is also focused on Oracle Virtual Manager as its primary virtualization hypervisor and Oracles own version of Linux.

Brookwood said the streamlined road map marks an improvement over past plans at Sun Microsystems. In the past, Sun tried to embrace a broader range of technologies and markets sacrificing profitability, he said.

Currently Oracle's x86 systems use only Intel processors because they have superior per-core performance than chips from rival Advanced Micro Devices, Brookwood said. However, that may change with the release of next-generation server processors based on AMD's upcoming Bulldozer core, he said.

Fowler said Oracle will have unique advantages over competitors Hewlett-Packard and IBM because it is optimizing its systems for the Oracle software stack.

"There's obviously a little bit of marketing hype in there, but there are things you can do in memory mapping and caching for example when everyone is working for the same company," said Brookwood. "Some of those things are incredibly subtle and even after you get them figured out it can take years to get into the microprocessor, so they may not be visible for a few years," he added.

"Oracle can legitimately claim to be the most vertically integrated server provider due to its apps," said Brookwood.

Vertical integration has become the watchword among data center providers. Cisco Systems started selling servers in March 2009, integrating them with its networking gear. HP acquired 3Com and EDS to boost its offerings in networking, services and software.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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