Volume 8, Number 22 -- June 5, 2008

Themis Partners with Sun to Make Sparc T2 Blade Server

Published: June 5, 2008

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

Since the launching of the first generation of "Niagara" Sparc T series of multicore processors nearly three years ago, Sun Microsystems has been very keen on getting other server makers to use the chip or, if they want to, to take the open source specs for the chip and create their own variants. It is an admirable approach to sales and marketing, using the same open source approach on hardware as has been successful for a lot of infrastructure software. But it is debatable if the approach has made Sun any money.

Sometimes, you do things for the right reason and you get your payback by serving the community. IT Jungle has always understood this, and provides a broad set of newsletters precisely because they serve readers--not because every newsletter makes money all the time. Sun's top executives understand this principle, and in a way, that makes them New Sun, not Old Sun. (Can you imagine Ed Zander open sourcing Solaris? Or the Sparc T1 and T2 specs? I can't.)

Anyway, this week, Sun announced that embedded systems maker Themis Computer is going to be building its own blade server based on the Sparc T2 processor, which is the second generation of the Niagara chips. The T2, you will recall, has twice as many threads--eight cores with eight threads each--as the T1, and it also has one floating point unit per core, compared to the single shared FP unit on the T1. These changes, says Themis president, Bill Kehret, meant that the kinds of workloads that customers are running on other UltraSparc-IIi, UltraSparc-III, and UltraSparc-IIIi processors can now be safely ported to the T2 chips, even if their applications do a lot of calculation. (This was not the case with the T1s, which makes you wonder why Sun skimped on the FP units in the first place.)

Themis, in case you don't know who the company is, was founded in 1989 and is a provider of single board computer systems in blade and rack form factors. The company is, according to Kehret, an unashamed bunch of Unix nerds, and is quite fond of Solaris and has been a source licensee of the operating system since its founding. The company was a partner of Fujitsu in its own cloning efforts for the Sparc platform, resulting ultimately in the Sparc64 line of processors that Sun now resells. The company is a realist and also sells Windows, Linux, and AIX embedded systems and single board computers, based on X64/X86 and Power processors. Themis had a big boom back in the dot-com boom and military build out, selling lots of iron to service providers and governments. These days, according to Kehret, about 60 percent of its business is on Sparc platforms, 30 percent is on X64/X86 platforms, and 10 percent is on Power platforms, and its boards are used in ruggedized industrial, process control, and surveillance systems, among others.

Solaris is the driver of its Sparc sales, and Themis is adopting the T2 chip to move that business ahead. "We are Solaris bigots, and there is no better Unix," says Kehret. "What people do not always grasp is that Solaris is an exceptional real-time operating system." Windows is not a real-time operating system, and Linux has to be outfitted with different kernels and other code to make it suitable for real-time applications. The reason why the T2 chip is important for Themis is that its customers do not always control the source code that they use in their businesses, so porting it from Sparc to X64 chips is not an option, even though some of its customers have done this and run Solaris on X86 board computers.

The new T2BC blade server has one processor, since the Sparc T2 does not, like the new "Victoria Falls" T2+, support two-socket (and soon maybe four-socket) configurations. The T2BC blade will support up to 32 GB of main memory in eight memory slots, a boot disk, a flash disk, and it will be available in August in volume. (It is sampling now to early customers.) Here's the funny bit about the T2BC blade: It doesn't plug into CompactPCI or VME blade standards, but rather plugs into the BladeCenter chassis designed by IBM and also pushed, to a certain extent, as a standard by Intel. IBM is obviously thrilled that Themis has chosen the BladeCenter form factor, but IBM is not planning to sell the T2BC blade. That could change, particularly if IBM catches wind that Solaris shops with old UltraSparc-IIIi board computers are willing to spend $15,000 a pop for T2BC blade servers, which is what the base price for an entry configuration of the blade is.


Sun Plans to Scale T2+ Servers to Four Sockets, Maybe More

Sun Gangs Up Sparc T2+ Chips with Maramba Servers

Sun Readies Dual-Socket Sparc T2+ Servers

Sun Puts Sparc T2 Processors into Netra Rack Server

Sun Boosts Netra Blades with 10GE and New Processors

Niagara-2 Chips Double Entry Sparc Server Performance

Sun Polishes Up Sparc T2 Multithreaded Chips

Intel Certifies Solaris on Its Carrier-Grade Servers

Sun Broadens Its Blade Server Lineup

Sun Offers First Opteron-Based Netra Server

Sun Delivers Sparc T1 in Netra and ACTA Blade Servers

Sun Promises to Put Sparc T1 Processor in Netra Blade Servers

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Editor: Timothy Prickett Morgan
Contributing Editors: Dan Burger, Joe Hertvik,
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