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Eco-responsibility and Niagara

Last week I attended the SUN launch of their latest SPARC processor, Niagara.  Considering this blog is .NET focused you might all ask what am I doing straying into this territory. The answer is need-to-know.  So what did I learn...

Background: when I attended the Information Age luncheon the roundtable discussion on datacenters did not spend a lof of time talking about anything else other than space, power consumption and heat.  This is a serious and very relevant issue for the datacenter players - they're realising that demand is not slowing down at all, rather it is increasing rapidly.  The technology innovations such as blade servers were, perhaps, very much a short-sighted quick fix to a simpe set of issues with complex ramifications; for example the heat from blade servers is so much that the cost of deployment means extensive cooling and space is necessary.  If that is not enough of an issue then perhaps this is - power has to be generated and consumed for both the servers and the cooling of them, this is not a non-issue by any means - I've been tracking the peak oil debate and read an interesting book from a leading geologist on the matter; my conclusion was clear - we, as an industry (US specific report here), will be ever more responsible for our contribution to the demand for more energy and its impact on our environment.

I know that many of us in the industry have a passion for the world we live in, we're open minded, multi-cultural and care deeply about our environment.  So when a new technology comes along that can make our impact significantly less I'm all for it!

Niagara is cool, not in trendy terms but in real terms - the team at SUN led by Fred DeSantis have done a superb job with Niagara - this processor and the ensuing family have been designed to significantly cut back on resource demands and heat dissipation.  To add to this the processors are exceptionally fast employing multiple cores and threads - they've used R&D from BI solutions as well to optimise the design to complement these processor intensive applications.

If you're running a datacenter this is the bottom line:

With Niagara you get more capacity in terms of processor power and space usage with lower energy bills for both running the servers and cooling them.  Unless I'm mistaken it's a no-brainer!?  Oh yeah, before I forget - they cost less than the competition.  (NB: I asked Fred DeSantis that "if demand outstripped supply would SUN alter their pricing?" - Fred's answer was direct and honest - he'd love to increase the margins but that is not SUN's goal, they're going for growth and we can be assured the pricing will remain the same).

In the first iteration of Niagara there has been a design compromise relating to floating point calculations - this is addressed in Niagara 2 (45nm), ready next quarter, where each core will have its own FP unit, twice as many pipelines and multi-socket capabilities.  They're also moving to serialised memory access instead of the current technique of parallel IO which will give 50GB/s read and 40GB/s write - that's big huh!?  On the processor are 2 x 10GB ethernet, 1 PCI-e, 25 Cyphers and 64x SMP - that's a lot of fun too!

But the biggest surprise was when Jonathan Schwartz announced they're opening the design up to the community - wonders never cease but what is clear is SUN Microsystems is no longer just pitching great technology, it's pitching responsible computing

Niagara is not OS-specific - Windows datacenters can benefit as well!  Let's hope our friends at Microsoft, who've got the bug for super computing, will optimise Windows OSes for this chipset being as the knowledge to do so is now out in the open.


Martin Elling said:

Has Sun turned the corner?
# December 13, 2005 11:39 AM

Ed Daniel said:

I'm not sure Martin, can anyone be? The acid-test is their share price/market value 2 years from now, perhaps that's an obvious thing to say and not so helpful...

The consensus of the SUN team at the launch was they now have a five-year lead in technology upon which to build. That's a long time in this industry, if a competitor introduced a chip technology superior to Niagara/Rock then that would undermine this vision - their confidence in opening up Niagara's design is testament to their belief this is so.

In relation to their services strategy I do love the quote from their 'Strategic Insight Officer', Larry Singer: “open source is free like a new born baby is free - for our core customers none of them are going to do it without strong support”

Whether or not we get to hear about IBM's Global Services being called in to tidy up a mess left behind by SUN or perhaps vice-versa :-) it will be interesting to see how SUN performs in the services space and the quality of the partner strategy they will implement in delivering that 'strong support'.
# December 14, 2005 6:04 AM