Oracle defies skeptics with Sparc T3 servers

Some thought Sun's 16-core server chip would never see the light of day, but systems based on Sparc T3 will start shipping in 30 days

Oracle has announced new servers based on the Sparc T3 processor, a chip that began life at Sun Microsystems and which some said might never see the light of day.

Known previously by its code name, Rainbow Falls, the Sparc T3 has 16 processor cores, twice as many as Sun's current high-end chip, the UltraSparc T2 Plus, which was released about two years ago. Oracle appears to have made a slight branding change, shortening UltraSparc to simply Sparc.

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The processors are used in Oracle's T series servers, which run Sun's Solaris operating system and are designed for databases and back-end business applications, as well as other tasks like serving busy websites. They compete with Unix systems from IBM and Hewlett-Packard.

The new Oracle servers range from a single-socket blade up to a four-socket server housed in a five-rack unit. The systems will start shipping in 30 days, Oracle announced Monday. The company also confirmed that Solaris 11, the next big update to Sun's Unix OS, will appear sometime next year.

At one time it was unclear if the Sparc T3 would be released at all. When Oracle said it was buying Sun last year, some predicted that CEO Larry Ellison would kill off Sun's money-losing hardware business and focus instead on software assets like Java and Solaris.

Oracle instead laid out a five-year road map for the Sparc processor family last month, although it was still cagey about when the Sparc T3 would go on sale. John Fowler, the head of Oracle's systems business, declined to say at the time if the chip would appear by the end of the year as scheduled.

It seems now that Oracle just wanted to make a splash with the announcement at its OpenWorld conference in San Francisco this week.

Each Sparc T3 core can process up to eight computing threads simultaneously, the same as the T2 Plus. The T3 cores run at up to 1.65GHz and have 6MB of level 2 cache memory, according to Oracle's website. Each processor has an on-chip cryptographic accelerator to speed up security functions and an integrated 10 Gigabit Ethernet chip for faster networking.

The servers launched Monday include the T3-1, positioned for Web infrastructure, middleware, and application development. The 2U system can be configured with up to 16 disk drives and six PCI Express cards, as well as 128GB main memory.

At the high end, the T3-4 is designed for large databases, important back-end business applications, and server consolidation projects. It's a 5U box that comes with two or four T3 processors at 1.65GHz and up to 512GB of main memory.

Oracle didn't provide pricing for the systems, which also include the T3-1B blade system.

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