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Sun users heartened by Oracle's pledge to support Sparc, Solaris

Sparc and Solaris will live on, Oracle executives say, but X86 plans remain a concern.

Sun Microsystems' customers are happy with Oracle's announced intention to continue investment in Sparc and Solaris, though concerns about x86 support still linger.

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During a lengthy webcast today, Oracle stressed integration, which has fast become the new IT buzzword. Cisco Systems Inc. has its Unified Computing System (UCS), Hewlett-Packard Co. has its BladeSystem Matrix, and the Cisco-VMware-EMC coalition has its Virtual Computing Environment. Oracle said it could now deliver from the chip to the application layer.

Oracle pledges loyalty to Sparc, Solaris
Oracle's promise of continued investment in Sparc and Solaris comes as no surprise.

More specifically, Oracle plans to release its new T3 UltraSparc chip later this year for its T-series Sparc systems. The T3 will be a 16-core, 40-nanometer (nm) chip (T2s are eight-core 65-nm chips). Down the road, three other UltraSparcs are in development, all of whose timelines and names are currently unavailable. The first will be another 40 nm chip, with eight cores running faster than the T3, followed by two 28 nm chips of four and 16 cores. And over the next 15 months, Fujitsu Ltd. is expected to release a new four-core, 65 nm Sparc64 processor for its larger-scale M-series servers.

Sun [Microsystems] has always created great products, and I want to see them doing more great things. I can only hope.
Brewster Kahle,
co-founderInternet Archive

Whether a continued roadmap matters is another question.

"Since the Sparc 3, the Sun Sparc platform has been inferior to the [IBM] Power platform," said Tom Becchetti, a Unix and storage engineer at a large Midwestern manufacturing firm. "It will be interesting to see how the new Sparc architecture will compare to Power 7."

On the Solaris side, Oracle said customers can expect to have the operating system integrated better with Oracle software. Oracle President Charles Phillips said Solaris and Sparc were the No. 1 operating system and processor, respectively, running underneath Oracle software installations. This, despite years of promoting the Oracle stack atop inexpensive commodity servers from Dell, HP and others.

On the x86 side, Sun's executive vice president of systems, John Fowler, said Oracle will concentrate on the enterprise.

"In x86 we are focusing on enterprise-class products used in clusters, integrated and focused around our own software," he said.

Fowler noted that Oracle Enterprise Linux and Oracle software, and "mission critical" computing, but not Solaris. But Oracle Chief Corporate Architect Edward Screven discussed Solaris Containers and said it would be available on Solaris everywhere, including x86 and x64 system. And CEO Larry Ellison later said he envisions Solaris running on large clusters of x64 servers. Although the x86 commitment remains to be seen, customers think Oracle will act out of self-interest and not forestall that business.

"I can't imagine they would stop supporting x86," said Matthew Leeds, the vice president of IT operations at Gracenote. "The price performance is very strong, and Sun has a great x86 story to tell. I haven't heard anything from Oracle that would lead me to believe they wouldn't support the x86 environment."

Another Oracle executive said that while the company will compete with the other big server vendors at the enterprise level, it will continue to collaborate with other hardware makers as well.

"We will do a tremendous amount of work with HP and Dell … in the volume x86 market, we expect it to be business as usual," said Judson Althoff, the senior vice president of worldwide alliances and channels at Oracle.

On the services side ... we expect more head-on competition with IBM in a broader set of product lines," Althoff said, "but we think the services relationship will be enhanced. IBM is one of the largest services partners for Sun and we expect that to continue. We are no stranger to coopetition."

One thing Ellison did not mention was Sun's Modular Data Center, formerly known as Blackbox. Brewster Kahle, co-founder of the Internet Archive, which operates a Modular Data Center running Sun Fire servers, Solaris on x86, OpenOffice, and other Sun products, said he had received no indication of change from Sun on its plans for the Blackbox.

"I don't really know what they're going to do differently with the acquisition," he said. "I bet they don't even know. Sun has always created great products, and I want to see them doing more great things. I can only hope, but we'll see. Time will tell."

Mark Fontecchio can be reached at

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