Sun Microsystems debuts mainframe-class machine

Sun Microsystems Inc. this week will introduce what it calls a mainframe-class Unix server which the company will position as a platform for database consolidation and other applications that might otherwise reside in the data center.

According to Sun executives the Ultra Enterprise 10000 - code-named Starfire - actually rivals IBM mainframe performance in terms of millions of instructions per second and system bandwidth. Additionally Starfire comes with mainframe-like features such as system partitioning and end-to-end component redundancy.

The new symmetric multiproc-essing (SMP) system scales from 16 to 64 UltraSPARC processors running at 250 MHz and comes with up to 64G of memory and 20 terabytes of on-line storage. The system will run all applications that run on Sun's Solaris operating system the company said.

The goal said John C. Shoemaker vice president and general manager of Sun's Enterprise Server and Storage Group is to allow customers "to deploy very large-scale packaged applications and to do that rather than adding more mainframes and adding to the problem of legacy systems."

However while discussing the server in terms of mainframe-class operations Sun expects it to be a viable solution across its customer base. Rather than targeting data centers specifically Sun is looking at larger open-systems users who could benefit from consolidating multiple users and applications on one system.

Starfire likely will be added to many of Sun's existing contracts including NASA's Scientific and Engineering Workstation Procurement II program the Air Force's Integrated Computer-Aided Software Engineering pact through Logicon Inc. the Navy's Computer-Aided Design-2 program through Cordant Inc. and possibly Sun's Navy Tactical Advanced Computer-Joint Workstation blanket purchasing agreement.

Starfire's beta users include an Energy Department laboratory and the Health Care Financing Administration according to Sun.

Sun's Ultra Enterprise 10000 replaces the Ultra Enterprise 6000 as the company's top-of-the-line server. The new server was developed using SMP technology developed by Cray Business Systems Division a division of Cray Research Inc. that Sun acquired from Silicon Graphics Inc. last year.

According to Sun Cray's interconnect crossbar technology allows computer systems to run a very high number of processors without a lot of overhead. In typical SMP system architectures performance usually falls off as multiple processors vie for shared resources.

Cray's interconnect technology is designed so each processor adds its own resources to the overall system in that way performance scales more evenly as the number of processors increases according to Sun.Richard Partridge a research analyst at D.H. Brown and Associates said Starfire has as much potential as a high-end technical computing solution as it does as a data center alternative. This will be more of a factor when Sun increases cache on the UltraSPARC chip to 4M from its current 1M Partridge said.

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