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Sun Microsystems' Niagara 2 servers hit shelves

Sun's latest UltraSparc T2 boxes include two rack servers and one blade, which can share a chassis with x86 models.

Today Sun Microsystems Inc. will unveil three new servers: two rack- and one blade-based on the UltraSparc T2, (aka Niagara 2) chip it announced in August.

For more on Sun's UltraSparc:
Sun Microsystems unveils Niagara UltraSparc T2 chip

Sun takes another stab at blades

At an event in Las Vegas later on Tuesday, Oct. 9, the Santa Clara, Calif., company is expected to roll out the 1U T5120 and 2U T5220 rack servers, as well as the T6320 blade. Pricing for the two rack-mount servers begins at about $14,000 and $15,000, respectively, and the servers are available now; pricing for the blade begins at about $10,000 and will be available at the end of this month.

You look at Niagara 2  ... and there are far fewer components that are not integrated onto the processor.
Gordon Haff,
analystIlluminata Inc.

When Sun introduced the UltraSparc T2 processor, it highlighted the fact that it was smaller than its T1 predecessor but had twice as many computing threads. The 65-nanometer chip has eight cores, each of which features eight threads, for a total of 64 computing threads. Released in 2005, the UltraSparc T1 was a 90-nanometer chip with 32 computing threads. Now the T2, with processing speeds as fast as 1.4 GHz, also includes more memory and eight times as many floating-point units as the T1.

The new 1.4 GHz chip, however, does not fit on existing motherboards; the UltraSparc T2 is not a pin-compatible upgrade.

The chip makes the server
"The chip really is still the primary story here," said Gordon Haff, analyst at Nashua, N.H.-based research firm Illuminata Inc. "Niagara 2 is essentially a system on a chip. You have networking on the chip that you don't have with [IBM's] Power, and you have integrated memory controllers. Power does have integrated memory controllers, but [Intel's] Itanium has neither of those."

"You look at Niagara 2 and the servers based on it, and there are far fewer components that are not integrated onto the processor," he added.

So what kinds of tasks are UltraSparc chips and its servers ideal for? Haff said they'll hold onto the traditional Web-serving role and move into more network-facing roles, although he doesn't foresee many users buying UltraSparc to do back-end database applications; Power-based servers, he said, are "more oriented" toward those kinds of activities.

Haff also doesn't anticipate much "mixing and matching" going on with UltraSparc and x64-blade servers in the same chassis. In June Sun introduced the 6000 blade chassis, which can combine UltraSparc, AMD, and Intel blades in the same enclosure. Warren Mootrey, the senior director of volume Sparc systems, said that users will take advantage of the opportunity; they'll like the "packaging of blades because it can save in cabling," he predicted. But Haff said that although there are exceptions, Sun users don't tend to be in multi-application environments where combining different processors' blades into the same chassis is overly attractive.

"I think you're more likely to see a Web infrastructure that is Solaris and UltraSparc or an infrastructure running x86," he said.

UltraSparc T2-based systems can run the Solaris 10 and Ubuntu Linux operating systems, and with the Solaris Containers virtualization feature, other Linux distributions such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux can be run as well.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Mark Fontecchio, News Writer.

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