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Sun Opens Design to New T1 Chip

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Among the announcements made at Tuesday’s NCQ405 in New York City, Sun Microsystems extended its open source policy to silicon, pledging to open up the architecture to its new UltraSparc T1 multicore processor.

The systems vendor has pulled out all of the stops with its new Unix
servers, including open sourcing its T1 chip.

Sun CEO Scott McNealy said during a press event here that Sun created the OpenSPARC project to foster greater adoption of computer systems based on the T1 architecture.

OpenSparc was created in support of the company’s unveiling of the first two servers based on the new T1 chip, the T1000 and T2000, which are geared for powering Web applications.

Using a new multithreading technology called CoolThreads, each of the UltraSparc T1 cores has four threads for a total of 32. Each thread can perform different tasks in parallel, which speeds processing for applications written to take advantage of it.

The news is part of the Santa Clara, Calif., company’s push to get back into contention in the server systems space, where it has lost share thanks to a combination of IBM’s Power architecture and Dell’s strong commodity server push.

Now that Sun has open-sourced its entire software stack, it only makes sense to extend the company’s new “sharing” mission to the hardware designs, Michael Splain, senior vice president and CTO of Sun’s scalable systems group, told after the event.

Beginning in the first quarter of 2006, Splain said Sun will publish specifications for the UltraSPARC-based chip. This includes the source of the design expressed in Verilog, a verification suite and simulation models, instruction set architecture specification, and a Solaris OS port.

He noted that Sun is not giving away the crown-jewel code behind the architecture, but more of a high-level map to help facilitate more collaboration around hardware design and perhaps even enable new products to be created.

Open-sourcing of software and hardware, Splain noted, reflects positively on Sun and could pay dividends going forward.

The source code will be released under an open source license approved by the Open Source Initiative (OSI).

Summit Strategies analyst Joe Clabby said Sun needed to do this to facilitate adoption of T1 to the degree that Sun wants the product to spread in a competitive market.

With software vendors already developing on Sun’s open software stack, he said hardware and software engineers may be amenable to creating solutions based on Sun technology now that the chip design has been freed up a bit.

He noted that this follows a similar move by IBM, which created an OpenPower initiative to share its Power chip architecture with other developers.

Clabby also said the relatively low costs of the T1000 and T2000 machines, which start at $2,995 and $7,7795, respectively, should lure more customers to Sun’s side. The tactic should at least help Sun staunch the bleeding in Unix market share due to IBM’s strong Power chips.

To be sure, Sun executives pulled out all of the stops today, demonstrating several ways in which its new T1000 and T2000 servers are more powerful, cost less, and consume far less power than machines from IBM, Dell and HP.

With the proof of as many as eight benchmarks, Sun officials showed how the new machines could be five times as powerful, consume one-fifth the power and only one-quarter the size of competing machines.

That’s a major hook at a time when customers are clamoring to save power, money and space.

In other parts of Sun’s news torrent, the company has devised a new metric for server efficiency called SWaP, which stands for space, wattage and performance.

The metric provides an equation — performance divided by space times power — for calculating how much space and power a machine consumes relative to its performance.

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