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Fujitsu and Sun Flex Their Quads with New Sparc Server Lineup

Published: July 14, 2008

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

Well, customers who were expecting to be using Sun Microsystems' "Rock" UltraSparc-RK processors inside new "Supernova" servers within a few months have not been left empty handed by Sun and its server and processor partner, Fujitsu. The Rock chips and their related servers have been pushed out until the second half of 2009--if not later, given the history of Sparc delays--but in the meantime, Sun and Fujitsu are giving customers a new upgrade to quad-core "Jupiter" Sparc64 VII processors inside the Sparc Enterprise line.

The Sparc Enterprise server line is a supposedly jointly developed product line that really comes down to Sun using Fujitsu's high-end Sparc64 clone boxes in the midrange and high end while the Fujitsu-Siemens partnership peddles these boxes as well as Sun's Sparc T1 and T2 multicore entry machines. The Sparc64 processors are designed to support big SMP boxes and their large memories and batch jobs, while the Sparc TX processors are aimed at Web and network infrastructure workloads. The Sparc Enterprise line was originally under development by Fujitsu for its own uses--and to compete against RISC/Unix boxes from Sun as well as other players--and in a landmark partnership in June 2004, after Sun ditched its UltraSparc-V development efforts and said it was focusing on "Niagara" Sparc TX and Rock UltraSparc-RK processors for its future server lines. After the Sun partnership, the "Olympus" Sparc64 VI dual-core processors already underway at Fujitsu's design labs in Japan were the foundation of a rebranded server series called the Advanced Product Line, or APL, which was then pushed out. In the roadmaps I have laying around and which I wrote about years ago, these quad-core "Jupiter" machines that were launched today were slated for delivery in mid-2006. Fujitsu's roadmaps were plenty aggressive in the early 2000s, much as Sun's were in the late 1990s.

This is a good time to point out that all server makers and all chip makers are overly optimistic in their roadmaps. It is a rare chip and server that comes out on time--not the other way around.

Anyway, the quad-core Sparc64 VII Jupiter processors are designed to scale up to 2.7 GHz, but it is currently being delivered in slower clock speeds. The chip is based on a 65 nanometer process that allows a significant shrinking of the cores used in the dual-core Olympus Sparc64 VI processors, the ones that the original Sparc Enterprise servers that started shipping in April 2007. The Jupiter processors have two threads per core, which means they can deliver eight-threads per processor socket. In the midrange Sparc Enterprise M4000 and M5000 servers, the quad-core chips are available at 2.4 GHz, while in the enterprise-class M8000 and M9000 servers they are available at 2.4 GHz and 2.52 GHz. The Olympus processors are available at 2.15 GHz in the M4000 and M5000 machines, and run at 2.28 GHz and 2.4 GHz in the M8000 and M9000 servers. The new Jupiter chips have multithreading on the cores, just like the Olympus chips did, but it is a different flavor--simultaneous multithreading instead of something called vertical multithreading. The important thing is that SMT is a fine-grained multithreading that really boosts performance and allows all the threads to be doing work at the same time, while vertical multithreading did not. The Olympus chips had 6 MB of L2 cache per core, but the Jupiter chips have 6 MB of L2 cache on the chip that is shared across all four cores. Each core on the chip has 64 KB of L1 data and 64 KB of L1 instruction cache too. The machines do not have L3 cache memory, as some big SMP boxes do these days.

According to Shannon Elwell, director of Enterprise Servers at Sun, the two companies--well, really three and maybe four, depending on how you want to count Sun and Fujitsu-Siemens--have already shipped over 1,000 Sparc64 VII processors in systems prior to today's launch, and it doesn't take a genius to figure that some Sparc shops--whether they are Sun's or Fujitsu's or Siemens'--need more processing oomph to get their work done.

While some customers will see up to a factor of 2X performance boost, says Richard McCormack, senior vice president of marketing at Fujitsu Computer Systems, those with current M4000 and M5000 machines using Jupiter processors will see a 40 percent performance boost if they move to the new chips; the resulting machines, if bought new, would have a 10 percent premium, which is reasonable. For larger M8000 and M9000 machines, the performance improvement can be as high as 80 percent, and the price premium comparing whole configurations of these servers using older Olympus processors to newer Jupiter ones will see a 20 percent price premium. Fujitsu has done a lot of work tuning the Sparc64 VII processors for supercomputing workloads, and that is where the largest performance increases--that 2X factor mentioned above--are being seen.

Upgrades are available for existing customers, and the Sparc Enterprise servers were designed from the getgo to just have these quad-core chips drop right in without any other changes to chipsets, memory, or I/O features. Interestingly, these Fujitsu-designed Sparc chips and servers also allow dual-core and quad-core processors to be plunked onto the same motherboard, side by side, and still run at their native speeds. (Usually, when you do this on a server, the chips can only run as fast as the slowest chip on the board; in most cases, you can't mix speeds at all.) Customers can mix and match old and new chips inside hardware domains that span many system boards as well, which means they can protect their investment while adding more performance for selected workloads. Fujitsu is supporting 2 GB and 4 GB DDR2 main memory in the Sparc Enterprise line and has not yet offered 8 GB modules, which are too expensive anyway. To use the new processors, customers have to be at Solaris 10 Update 4, which shipped last year with the initial Sparc Enterprise machines, or Update 5, which shipped earlier this year.

Because everyone is counting watts these days, the dual-core Olympus processor was rated at a 120-watt thermal design point, while the quad-core Jupiter chip runs at 135 watts, which is 12.5 percent hotter. However, when you do the adjustment for power use per core, this represents a 44 percent reduction in electricity usage for a core supporting a heavy workload, and when you add in the performance boost from clock speed boosts and multithreading improvements, the performance per watt improvement for the processors is even higher.

The Sparc Enterprise SMP design spans up to a maximum of 64 processor sockets, which means that Fujitsu and Sun can put a 256-core, 512-thread machine with 2 TB of main memory into the field. This is as big a box as anyone else can deliver, and by some measures, the M9000 is probably the biggest. (We'll see when the benchmark tests come out.) The M9000 supports up to 24 dynamic hardware domains (hardware partitions in plain English) and has 288 PCI slots; it can support thousands of Solaris containers (virtual private server partitions) and comes in one or two cabinets (with 32 sockets per cabinet). The M8000 is basically one quarter of this box, support 16 processor sockets, 512 GB of main memory, and 112 peripheral slots in a single cabinet. The M4000 and M5000 servers are rack-mounted midrange machines. The M4000 is a four-socket machine that fits in a 6U rack chassis. It supports up to 128 GB of main memory, two dynamic domains, and 25 I/O slots. The M5000 comes in a 10U chassis that has up to eight processor sockets, supports up to 256 GB of main memory, has 50 peripheral slots, and supports up to four dynamic domains. The M5000 is basically two M4000 system boards in a single box, linked by SMP electronics.

To give you a sense of what these machines cost, here's a range. A base Sparc Enterprise M4000 with two 2.4 GHz Jupiter processors (that's eight cores) and 8 GB of main memory costs $34,980. A top-end M9000 cabinet with two 2.27 GHz Jupiter processors and 16 GB of memory costs $435,000.


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