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Oracle to debut Sparc server with new T4 chips

CEO Larry Ellison today will tout a SuperCluster system based on the Sparc T4 processors, which take a step back toward traditional chip designs.

A Sparc-based SuperCluster from Oracle
A Sparc-based SuperCluster from Oracle Oracle

Oracle Chief Executive Larry Ellison made his fortune with software, but he'll take the stage today to show off the first servers powered by the company's new Sparc T4 processor.

The product, called the Sparc SuperCluster T4-4, is "the first engineered system from a new generation of high-performance Oracle Sparc servers," according to an Oracle invitation to the event . Ellison will share the stage with John Fowler, the systems executive vice president who also led Sun's server group, at Oracle's Redwood Shores, Calif., headquarters.

Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems last year for its server products, including the Sparc processor family and the Solaris version of the Unix operating system. Oracle plans to marry the Sun technology with its own server software for business tasks such as running databases of information, managing finance and accounting, and handling customer relations. Clusters link multiple servers in a design geared to accommodate heavier work without the expense of a single server with a higher processor count.

When Oracle was just a software company, it relied on tight ties with hardware makers. Now, though, it's willing to irk erstwhile partners, for example by declaring Intel's Itanium processor dead, ceasing software development for it, and thereby denting HP Itanium server sales.

Oracle's Sparc processors, along with Sparc64 models from ally Fujitsu, compete in the server market with Itanium and IBM's Power family. But x86 chips from Intel and to a lesser extent AMD occupy an ever-larger swath of the server market. Those x86 processors are gradually gaining high-end features once reserved for the server processors that have higher reliability requirements.

Sun's T-series processors began with the T1 "Niagara," evolved to the T2 "Victoria Falls" and T3 "Rainbow Falls." All three of those designs emphasized the ability to perform lots of parallel tasks at once at the expense of executing an individual task as quickly as possible. Not only did the T-series processors push hard with multiple processing engines, called cores, on the same same slice of silicon, they also pushed hard by letting each core executive multiple instruction sequences, called threads.

With the T4, though, Oracle is headed in a more traditional direction: fewer processor cores running at a faster clock speed, according to details the company shared at the Hot Chips conference in August.

"The new Sparc T4 design illustrates the ongoing struggle of processor designers to balance single-thread performance versus throughput on highly threaded code," Linley Group analyst Bob Wheeler. "Reversing Sun's prior direction of increasing the number of threads per processor, Sparc T4 instead prioritizes greater single-thread performance over throughput.The result is a processor with eight CPUs operating at 3.0GHz compared with the T3's 16 CPUs operating at a lowly 1.65GHz."

Each T4 processor core, called S3, can juggle between eight threads. Thus, the overall chip can handle 64 threads.