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Sun's new SPARC64: Nice product, little excitement

Sun should at least make the old college try to display some enthusiasm about products that are proven and bringing in real revenues.

Earlier this week, Sun Microsystems launched a family of new servers based on the SPARC64 VII processor. In contrast to Sun's "CMT" (Chip Multithreading) UltraSPARC T1 and T2 designs that deliver aggregate performance using a large number of threads, SPARC64 takes a more conventional approach that is more rooted in parallelism and performance at the level of a single thread. This design is more attuned with the performance requirements of typical enterprise back-end applications and databases, whereas CMT has more of a network-facing orientation.

SPARC64 comes from Sun's partner Fujitsu, which also designs and builds the midrange and high-end servers that use the chip; these systems went by the "APL" codename while they were under development. Fujitsu and Sun jointly sell these servers--as well as the CMT "Niagara' boxes for which Sun does the processor and server development.

The new processor and servers are solid upgrades. Although not as multi-threaded as Niagara, the SPARC64 VII bumps the number of cores per chip to four, and adds the ability to run two threads on each of those cores--a technique that helps mask delays associated with waiting for data to arrive from memory. Frequency is also up from the prior generation to 2.4 GHz and 2.52 GHz.

Sun pegs the performance boost over the prior generation at up to about 80 percent for commercial applications, and up to 2x on apps that are floating point-intensive. That's a nice increment, considering that upgrades from the SPARC64 VI servers require only CPU board upgrades. While I find that vendors often overplay the issues associated with competitors' "forklift" hardware upgrades and other supposed gotchas, there's no doubt that less is more when it comes to making infrastructure changes.

Overall, there's little to fault in this announcement from a product perspective. It's a solid, nondisruptive bump to a product line that--although Sun doesn't break out numbers--must contribute a substantial chunk of its server revenue.

My critique instead relates to how Sun (again) seemed almost bored by this announcement. Yes, there was a press release--it wasn't exactly a stealth launch--but there was certainly none of the mass marketing air cover that Sun (for better or worse) is wont to darken the skies with when it comes to something that it's genuinely excited about. No blog postings from its pony-tailed Blogger-in-Chief. No glitzy roll-out.

Don't get me wrong, many of the things that get Sun's corporate blood flowing such as open storage, OpenSolaris, Project BlackBox, ZFS and solid state disk, and Niagara are genuinely exciting. But many are also speculative. It would behoove Sun to at least make the old college try to display some comparable enthusiasm about products that are proven and bringing in real revenues.