Sun Readies Dual-Socket Sparc T2+ Servers
Published: March 13, 2008
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
The word on the street is that Sun Microsystems will launch the next generation of its Sparc T family of servers with the "Victoria Falls" kickers to the Sparc T2 processors within the next month or so. With the launch of these machines, Sun will be able to gang up two Sparc T series processors into a single system image, thereby making the machines upon which they are based that much more useful. The "Niagara" Sparc T1 and T2 processors have been limited to single-socket implementations.
The Victoria Falls processors taped out in October 2006, and basically put two of the Niagara-2 processors into a symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) cluster in a two-socket box. The initial Niagara processors, called the Sparc T1 chip, had eight Sparc cores, each with four execution threads, and the Sparc T2 chips announced last summer boosted the per-core thread count to eight execution threads while also giving each core its own floating point unit and embedding two 10 Gigabit Ethernet NICs on the chip. The official name of the Victoria Falls chips could be Sparc T2+ or Sparc T3--the name depends on who you ask--and the servers based on it are known by their code name, "Maramba." With the Niagara chips, the platforms were code-named after the lakes surrounding Niagara Falls--Huron, Erie, and Ontario. The Maramba platforms are based on the Victoria Falls, named after one of the rivers that feeds into the Falls, which span Zambia and Zimbabwe in Africa. You would also think that the big-dog server platform based on the Victoria Falls chip would be called Zambezi, after the main river that feeds the falls in Africa.
(Presumably, then, there is a future variant of the basic Niagara design code-named Iguazu, which is the South American falls off the Amazon river that is nearly twice as wide but not as tall as Victoria Falls, which in turn is twice as tall and twice as wide as Niagara Falls. If I were Sun, I would do a shrink of the Sparc T2+ chips and crank the clock speed to like 3 GHz, keeping the core count the same, thereby boosting individual thread throughput. That would be a suitable Iguazu project.)
In the case of both the Sparc T1 and Sparc T2 chips, Sun announced the chips first, followed a month or two later by the announcement of servers using the chips. It is hard to believe that Sun's re-constituted Microelectronics division doesn't want some time on its own with the press and analyst community, but thus far Sun has not said much about the chip other than to expect systems based on it to be launched in the first half of 2008. The machines are close enough for some Sun resellers to have detailed specs for the boxes up on their sites, and our colleagues at The Register reported this week that Sun is launching the new Victoria Falls gear on April 9.
According to the sources who have accidentally leaked the information about the Maramba platforms, there is the Sparc T5140 server, which is a 1U form factor with two Sparc T2+ chips in it, and the Sparc T5240, which is a 2U configuration. (Interestingly, T5240 is also the product code for a two-handled bidet system from Moen, but enough about New York State politics.) With two chips in a box, these machines can bring 16 cores (hopefully at well in excess of 2.5 GHz) and 128 threads to bear on workloads. But given that Sun is only promising that the Victoria Falls machines will deliver 65 times the performance of the UltraSparc-IIIi processors from 2005, compared to 35 times for the Niagara-2 chips, that would mean that Sun is only expecting to boost performance per machine by 86 percent. Core count boosts usually bring a 50 percent performance increase per socket, but moving from a single socket to a two-socket SMP implementation usually means somewhere between 65 percent to 90 percent performance increases. That would imply that Sun is not planning to increase clock speeds all that much with Victoria Falls, unless its SMP implementation is not very efficient.
There is also a Victoria Falls box called the T5440, which is presumably a 4U chassis with lots more expansion room; some people are talking about the T5440, which is expected to ship after these boxes, to support up to four Victoria Falls T2+ chips. The Niagara design was certainly supposed to scale up to four processors and possibly beyond at some point, so this is possible. But Sun has not said anything about four-socket Sparc T machines yet publicly. It seems equally likely that people are confusing 4U and four-core as they chatter, and that four-socket Sparc T machines come out in 2009 or 2010.
Sun is also promising to get blade servers based on the Sparc T2+ chips out the door in the first half of 2008, but this will almost certainly come out as a second announcement from the company. The more PR, the better.
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