SAN FRANCISCO -- The availability of the next-generation UltraSPARC processor, the new SPARC T3, as well as four servers built around it may ease some -- but not all -- concerns about the future of SPARC under Oracle.
At Oracle OpenWorld 2010 here this week, the company showed off a roadmap that demonstrates continued development of the chip platform beyond its traditional Web-serving roots.
The new T3 systems only speak to one side of the Sun hardware story. The future of servers based on the Fujitsu SPARC64 systems, the Sun M-Series Servers targeted at enterprise workloads such as databases, remains decidedly up in the air. And the highly touted Oracle Exadata and now new Exalogic super-servers remain decidedly Intel-only.
Sun observers took the T3 news in stride. The chip was already under development under the code-name "Rainbow Falls" before the Oracle acquisition.
"I would say that customers would generally be considering [the new servers] for Web-serving and heavily threaded applications," said attendee Phil Jaenke, a Cleveland-based independent consultant with Unix expertise.
"The SPARC T3 is a bigger, badder Niagara," said Ben Rockwood, director of systems engineering at cloud computing infrastructure company Joyent in an email to SearchDataCenter.com. Niagara was the code name for the UltraSPARC T1 microprocessor.
But SPARC T3 does provide insight into Oracle's approach to SPARC processors going forward, said Rockwood, who is also the author of the Cuddletech.com blog.
"With Rock officially terminated and T3 now announced, we're getting a taste for the future of the SPARC product line," Rockwood said -- that is, "simply amp it up and iterate more threads, better performance, and try to improve perception of the chip as an enterprise workhorse."
Indeed, Oracle appears committed to building out the SPARC line and optimizing it for more enterprise-oriented workloads such as the application server and database tier, said Rich Partridge, senior server analyst at Ideas International. Oracle's roadmap calls for a successor to Rock that is somewhat less high-performance, but that is better suited for non-parallel workloads, he said.
The availability and characteristics of that chip will play in to whether or not Oracle chooses to continue its relationship with Fujitsu, which manufactures the SPARC64 processor.
"Conceivably Oracle's plans for its Rock successor could take enough of the market for them not to need SPARC64 anymore, but even Oracle doesn't know this at this point," Partridge said.
Chip multithreading lives on
Designed for highly parallel Web-facing applications, the SPARC T3 chip features 16 cores, each capable of handling 8 threads, for a total of 128 threads in a single processing unit. It also features on-chip cryptographic accelerators, speeding up security functions.
New systems based on the T3 include the SPARC T3-1, SPARC T3-2 and SPARC T3-4, which feature one, two, or four of the new processors. In addition, Oracle released a bladed version of the system, the new SPARC T3-1B.
In and of themselves, the T3 systems will make fine Web servers, said Sun observers, but again, they have doubts about Oracle's commitment to the platform.
"These new systems from Oracle are the kind of servers that Sun should have been releasing a year or two ago," said Bill Bradford, a systems administrator for a Houston-based energy services firm and owner of sunhelp.org, in an email. "There was too much stagnation in their SPARC server offerings for too long, and that caused customers to move to 64-bit Intel/AMD."
Specifically, the T3 systems' compute density makes it a good fit for companies looking to deliver cloud-based applications, said Patrick Zanella, technical product manager at Akibia, an IT services company headquartered in Westborough, Mass.
"I am impressed at the new systems density and power ranking" he said.
SPARC future still questioned under Oracle
But many still question Oracle's long-term commitment to SPARC. The company's new high-end Exadata and promised Exalogic machines are Intel-based.
"I think the big question is whether customers feel that Oracle is committed to their hardware platform. I know many customers are migrating away from the Sun platform for a variety of reasons, including lagging performance, concerns about having to deal with Oracle in general versus working with other OEMs who have a solid reputation and a clear commitment to their hardware platforms," including Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Dell," said Zanella.
A Unix system specialist at the show concurred. "I couldn't recommend the T3 to anyone for anything other than Web serving. I worked extensively with T1 and T2, and the sole standout on the T3 is crypto acceleration. But does it work with Apache et al. or only with WebLogic? I can't imagine it wouldn't, but it's definitely worth verifying," he said. "The lack of T3 in Exalogic or Exadata really stands out though. Oracle is really talking out of both sides of their mouth there."
The SPARC T3 systems run Oracle Solaris and Oracle VM for SPARC (LDOMs), and are integrated with Oracle Database, Oracle Fusion Middleware, Oracle Applications. They are expected to start shipping in the next 30 days, the company said.
Barbara Darrow contributed to this story.
Oracle OpenWorld 2010 special report