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Sun shipping eight-core Niagara servers

Dec 05, 20053 mins
Data Center

Sun this week is aiming to change the way corporate customers look at rack-dense servers by unveiling low-power-consuming, high-processing systems based on its new multicore, multithreaded UltraSPARC T1 processor, code-named Niagara.

Among a number of announcements, the most significant is expected to be the introduction of Sun’s first products in its Niagara server line. The servers are aimed at I/O intensive workloads, such as Web serving, where systems must respond to thousands of requests simultaneously. Sun says the units will consume about half the power of Xeon- or Opteron-based systems while handling as many as 32 individual software instructions per processor.

The 1U T1000 server, which has six or eight processing cores on a single piece of silicon, is expected to be available next year and priced starting at less than $4,000, according to sources familiar with Sun’s plans. The 2U T2000, meanwhile, is available with four, six or eight processing cores on a single chip and a starting price of about $8,000. Each core on the Niagara processor can handle four software threads simultaneously.

Sun, which declined to comment, hopes the servers will boost its position in the exploding low end of the server market by addressing the environmental concerns of IT managers struggling to maintain overprovisioned data centers. The new processor runs as fast as 1.2 GHz, yet consumes just 70 watts of power, a bit more than an average household light bulb. Today’s processors average about 100 watts or more, according to industry experts.

“Niagara is hitting the market at a good time. The concerns it addresses, such as power efficiency, are high on a lot of IT managers’ minds today,” says Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata. “We’ll have to see how it stacks up on both benchmarks and real-world application performance – but if it really does offer, say, double or better Xeon performance that should be enough to grab the attention of anyone with a large Linux server farm.”

Power and heat issues are the driving forces behind a shift in processor design industrywide: Instead of simply ramping up clock speed, chipmakers are putting more cores on a single piece of silicon to enable more work to be done by fewer power-hungry processors.

IBM has had a dual-core Power processor since 2001 and introduced a quad-core Power5+ in October. HP rolled out its dual-core PA-RISC chip last year, and both Intel and Advanced Micro Devices introduced dual-core x86 chips this year.

The detailsKey features of Sun’s new multi-core T2000 server:
Processor:1 UltraSparc T1 multicore processor, with four, six or eight cores
Memory: 16 slots, each supporting 512M, 1G or 2G bytes DDR-2 DIMMS, for a maximum 32G bytes of memory
Networking:Four Ethernet ports
PC interfaces :Three PCI-Express and two PCI-X slots
Power: Two hot swappable, redundant power supply units
Remote management:Sun’s ALOM (advanced lights out management) controller
Operating system :Solaris 10 pre-installed