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Oracle SPARC Server Buying Guide

By Drew Robb (Send Email)
Posted December 15, 2011


Oracle introduced a new line of SPARC servers in late September as well as the SPARC SuperCluster. All are based on the brand new T4 chip.

"The T4 microprocessor is up to five times faster than T3 in terms of single-thread performance," said John Fowler, executive vice president for systems at Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL). "Dynamic threading lets the SPARC T4 processor adapt to all kinds of workloads."

Most microprocessors work best with either single-threaded or multi-threaded traffic. Dynamic threading means the T4 can cope with both types of workload without difficulty. Each T4 node comes with eight cores and up to 64 threads per CPU. Frequency ranges from 2.85 GHz to 3.0 GHz for this 40nm process technology

"We have an enormous T3 installed base," said Rick Hetherington, vice president of development for SPARC at Oracle. "All are well prepared for a refresher to the T4, which is only the beginning of a bright future for SPARC processors at Oracle."

SPARC T4 Server line

Fowler said that Oracle is now shipping the complete family of servers in the SPARC T4 Server line. This line consists of several models:

SPARC T4-1 Server

Starting at $16,000, the SPARC T4-1 Server is the low-end model. It comes with one 8-core, 2.85 GHz SPARC T4 processor with a dedicated 128K of L2 cache per core and 4 MB of shared L3 cache. It automatically switches to single-thread mode when only one thread is active. When fully loaded, the SPARC T4-1 can support 256 GB of RAM. Built-in virtualization can support up to 64 virtual machines (VMs) and thousands of Solaris Containers in one box. It also comes with integrated on-chip cryptographic acceleration and space for eight hard drives or solid state drives (SSD) or any combo thereof. Solaris 11 is pre-installed in all T4 servers. It is recommended for Web applications, middleware, application development, databases, OLTP and Oracle applications, such as J D Edwards and WebLogic.

Additionally, there is a T4-1 module that fits inside a Sun blade chassis. This is known as the SPARC T4-1B Server Module.

SPARC T4-2 Server

The SPARC T4-2 Server is similar in many respects to the T4-1, except it has two sockets and up to 512 GB of memory. Additional features include Lights Out Management and Oracle Enterprise Manager Ops Center for systems management.

SPARC T4-4 Server

The SPARC T4-4 Server is the Big Mama of the T4s. It comes with two or four sockets, each with an 8-core, 3.0 GHz SPARC T4 processor with dedicated 128K L2 cache per core and 4 MB of shared L3 cache. It boasts a system maximum of 1 TB of RAM and comes with all the other features mentioned above, plus a couple of extras.

"The T4-4 costs $467,856 and is 2.4 times faster running DB2 and WebSphere than an IBM Power 780, which costs $1.3 million," said Ellison, quoting the SPECj Enterprise benchmark results.

SPARC SuperCluster T4-4

Continuing the engineered systems theme begun by the Oracle Exadata Database Machine X2-2 and X2-8 systems and Oracle Exalogic Elastic Cloud, the company has taken the T4-4 and engineered it into the SPARC SuperCluster.

"We gave a lot of thought to how all the pieces of hardware and software would work together so we could create an extremely parallel architecture," said Ellison. "Extreme parallelism gives extreme performance, easy scalability and fault tolerance."

It's easy to understand Ellison's enthusiasm for these engineered systems. Exadata, he said, is the most successful product in the company's history. And Exalogic is on track to surpass it.

"The SPARC SuperCluster includes the database and middleware and runs Solaris 11 and SPARC," said Ellison.

Oracle calls it the first general-purpose engineered system. As well as Solaris and the SPARC T4-4 server, the SPARC SuperCluster includes Oracle Exadata storage and middleware processing from the Oracle Exalogic Elastic Cloud. It can be used to deploy multiple databases and applications as well as multiple tiers of applications. It is designed to provide rapid queries, OLTP response times and Java middleware performance. The company targets the SPARC SuperCluster at consolidation of mission-critical enterprise applications.

According to Ellison, the SPARC SuperCluster outdoes the best of HP and IBM, delivering two times the performance of IBM Power7-based systems and HP Superdome 2 systems at half the cost running database and enterprise applications.

"The SPARC SuperCluster T4-4 is a really fast computer," said Ellison. "It combines extreme parallelism and extreme compression to provide a migration path for existing SPARC customers. This one box moves data two-times faster than IBM's fastest computer at eight-times better price/performance."

Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in California, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).

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