Sun Still Has A SPARC

Andy Ingram, vice president of marketing for Sun's Scalable Systems unit, said servers based on the next generation of UltraSPARC III chips, code-named Niagara, will be available in early 2006. Two years after that, Sun will introduce servers based on the next generation of UltraSPARC IV, code-named Rock.

Sun also will release hardware based on a new rev of the UltraSPARC IIIi+ processor at the beginning of 2006, Ingram said. The UltraSPARC IIIi line is a version of UltraSPARC III tuned for running applications that require high- performance capabilities.

Such long-term plans for SPARC prove Sun, Santa Clara, Calif., is committed to delivering hardware on its proprietary chip architecture in tandem with plans to bolster its server line based on Advanced Micro Devices Opteron chips, Ingram said.

"It's a matter of offering choice to our customers," Ingram said. "We want to offer what makes sense for the customer, [and that will] vary upon what their workload is, what their environment is and what they have in the shop."

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However, solution providers and sources close to the company have suggested Sun eventually will market SPARC-based servers only to the very high end of the hardware market, reserving the low-end and midrange space—everything from two-way to eight-way servers—for Opteron.

This move seems logical as Sun readies its dual-core Opteron servers, code-named Galaxy, which are expected to be available in the second half of the year, they said. The Galaxy line will feature everything from one-socket, two-processor servers to eight-socket, 16-processor servers.

One solution provider said that with the imminent availability of eight-socket, dual-core Galaxy servers that will act as 16-way systems, it "makes you question [the existence of anything] that's UltraSPARC III."

However, Rob Wolfe, president of Sun VAR partner AvcomEast, Silver Spring, Md., said the argument customers are concerning themselves with now is not SPARC vs. Opteron, but rather if they should use Opteron-based hardware instead of Intel Xeon-based servers.

"As a partner, [Sun's Opteron investment] is opening doors for us where they have never been opened before," Wolfe said. "This is not about Opteron replacing your SPARC, this is about Opteron replacing your Intel architecture."

Wolfe said that his company has three Sun Opteron-based demonstration servers, and they are constantly in use at customer sites. Moreover, in 50 percent of engagements in which a customer has test-drove Sun's Opteron-based servers, AvcomEast has ended up selling that hardware to those customers, he said.