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Sun-Fujitsu server project beset by delay

Partnership will take longer than planned to plug a coming gap in Sun's Sparc server product line.

A correction was made to this story. Read below for details.
SAN FRANCISCO--A server collaboration between Sun Microsystems and Fujitsu has run into a delay that likely will mean some products won't arrive until next year, a top Sun server executive said Wednesday.

Under the Advanced Product Line (APL) deal the companies launched in 2004, Sun and Fujitsu had planned to deliver servers using Fujitsu's Sparc64 VI "Olympus" processor beginning in mid-2006. Instead, higher-end models with more than eight processors likely won't arrive until 2007, David Yen, executive vice president of Sun's Scalable Systems Group, said in a meeting with reporters at Sun's offices here.

"The APL thing is happening a few months later than we originally planned," Yen said. "You can expect low end four- and eight-way systems will probably happen sooner. There's still a chance that will happen before the end of the year. High-end 16-, 32- and 64-way systems probably will happen in the early part of next year."

The partnership fills an important gap in Sun's product line that was left when the company canceled its UltraSparc V processor to focus instead on its high-end "Rock" chip due to arrive in systems in 2008. Under the APL deal, Fujitsu will sell UltraSparc T1 "Niagara"-based T1000 and T2000 servers, and Sun will sell the largely Fujitsu-designed "OPL"--Olympus Product Line.

Sun's current line could fill the breach. The company underestimated UltraSparc IV+ systems demand in the last quarter of 2005. A 1.8GHz version of the chip is planned, and "we may even push it beyond that," Yen said.

Fujitsu's Olympus processor has been slipping. In 2003, the company said Olympus would arrive in late 2005, but in 2005, the company gave itself until 2006. The chip is a dual-core model, unlike the single-core Sparc64 V, and each core can handle two simultaneous instruction sequences called threads.

Although Olympus is a different design than the Sun UltraSparc IV+ processor it's intended to succeed, the transition to the chip will be simple, Yen said. "You can view it as UltraSparc IV++," he said. "All customers will feel is application performance got better."

Fujitsu has referred to Olympus as Sparc64 VI and its four-core "Jupiter" successor as Sparc64 VI+, but those names aren't likely to be used in marketing once the APL sales effort begins. "We'll have a common name," Yen said.

The APL partnership runs through 2008. Sun executives have said that an extension is possible, but Yen described reasons the decision isn't simple. "Niagara is not expected to overlap with OPL, but Rock will. Rock comes out in 2008, but the APL agreement expires in 2008," Yen said.

But he wouldn't go as far as saying the partnership definitely will end. "We hope that's not going to be the case," Yen said. "That part is to be determined. We have a common competitor called IBM...We hope we can work together to further...Sparc."

Sun shining on Rock
Yen is optimistic about Rock. "We feel we may have underestimated a bit due to the conservativeness of predicting performance," he said. Sun had said earlier that Rock systems will offer 30 times the performance of a system with a 1.2GHz UltraSparc III.

The cost of the better performance is a chip that's "a little bit bigger, but nowhere near the crazy" size of Intel's Itanium, Yen said.

Rock, along with Niagara II, will "tape out" this year. (A chip tapes out when its first design is completed and sent to manufacturing so prototypes can be built; the term derives from the days when the design was recorded on tape.)

"You can expect both of those to tape out within this year," Yen said. "When we tape out, we expect a smooth ride."

Correction: This story incorrectly described Fujitsu's Sparc64 V processor. It has a single core.