Sun Delivers Sparc T1 in Netra and ACTA Blade Servers
Published: September 14, 2006
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
While this week's server announcements in New York by Sun Microsystems included four new machines that use its "Jalapeno" UltraSparc-IIIi processor, these were not the only new servers that Sun is putting into the field. As promised, Sun is putting its "Niagara" Sparc T1 processor into Netra and related ACTA blade servers that are popular among telecom companies.
The Netra line of machines support a number of telecom industry standards that are also adopted by Internet hosting companies and other types of service providers. These are collectively called NEBS compliance, which is short for Network Equipment Building Systems. NEBS-compliant machines draw DC power directly, as telecom equipment does, instead of the usual AC wall current that most servers and, indeed, most electronics gear uses. They are also ruggedized and tested under extreme conditions to ensure their reliability, since in emergencies, telephone systems and other network equipment have to continue to operate. It usually takes a little longer to being a NEBS-compliant variant of a server to market than it does a plain vanilla box suitable for other industries, and so it is with Sun's Netra and ACTA blade servers using the Niagara chip.
The Netra T2000 is a NEBS-compliant version of the T2000 server that Sun announced back in December 2005 with much fanfare. The Niagara chip is a variant of the Sparc architecture that packs eight relatively small UltraSparc-II cores on a single chip. But cores that have been modified to have four separate processor threads each. This yields a 32 thread processor that is 100 percent compatible with existing Sparc applications; the chip is so efficient that its threads can be kept busy about 75 percent of the time, according to Sun's own benchmarking. And because it consumes between 75 watts and 79 watts of power, depending on the workload, the Niagara chip has excellent performance per watt.
When the Niagara servers were announced back in December, Sun had two variants. The T1000 comes in a 1U chassis and comes with six or eight Sparc T1 cores activated on the chip running at 1 GHz. The T2000 uses a larger 2U chassis and comes with four or six cores running at 1 GHz or eight cores running at 1.2 GHz--the latter being the top performance delivered by the T1 chip. Each T1 chip has 3 MB of shared L2 cache, an integrated DDR2 memory controller, and a PCI Express controller. The T1 motherboards support up to four Gigabit Ethernet ports and up to 32 GB of main memory using 2 GB DIMMs.
It is the T2000 machine that has been turned into a Netra box. The Netra T2000 has the same processor and memory options, but it comes with redundant 300 watt power supplies that run on 48 volt or 60 volt DC current. It has room for two 73 GB or 146 GB hot plug SAS disk drives. The base Netra T2000 comes with four cores activated and running at 1 GHz, 8 GB of main memory, two 73 GB disks; it costs $9,995. The regular Sun Fire T2000 costs $9,045 in an AC-powered configuration. The fully loaded Netra T2000 has eight cores activated and running at 1.2 GHz, 32 GB of main memory, and two 73 GB disks; it costs $31,995. The regular Sun Fire T2000 version of this machine costs $29,445. Sun is, as always, charging a slight premium for NEBS compliance, since it means some extra engineering work and testing.
In addition to the Netra T2000 rack-based server, Sun also this week put the T1 chip into its Netra CT9000 AdvancedTCA blade server. The telecom and service provider business, which is big in standards, has long since created a number of different standardized blade server form factors, and ACTA is the most recent of these. The new Netra CP3060 is a blade server that adheres to the ACTA standard and also has the same processor options as the Netra T2000 and the Sun Fire T2000 servers. However, being a blade server, this one is sensitive to heat and thus far only supports up to 16 GB of main memory. It also has a compact flash socket to add flash drive functionality--commonly used in the embedded server business--to the blade.
The CT9000 chassis has room for a dozen ACTA blades plus two slots for switching blades. Pricing for a base blade chassis with a few Sparc or Opteron blades runs from $32,995 to $50,995. Sun did not provide explicit pricing for the Sparc T1-based blades that go into this chassis. Sun charges $4,295 for an ACTA blade using a 1.1 GHz UltraSparc-IIIi processor and 2 GB of main memory (the CP3010), and $3,845 for an ACTA blade that uses a single dual-core 2.2 GHz Opteron processor and has 2 GB of base memory. It is hard to imagine that Sun can command a huge price/performance premium for a Sparc T1 blade.
Those chassis prices, by the way, do include dual Gigabit Ethernet switch blades. Both Carrier Grade Linux and Solaris 10 are supported on the Netra ACTA blades, but as far as anyone knows, Linux is not yet officially supported on the Sparc T1s, and is certainly not supported on earlier Sparc architectures (at least not by Sun).
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