Sun says OpenSparc is gaining traction

Sun set to report its open-source architecture is gaining market share from IBM's Power and Intel's Itanium

Sun Microsystems says its new UltraSparc T1 microprocessor, nicknamed Niagara, is creating a big splash.

Sun was set to report Monday that 60 percent of the trial units of Niagara, an open-source product, have been ordered by new customers. This indicates that the company is gaining market share from rivals such as IBM's Power and Intel's Itanium high-performance microprocessor architectures.

Sun is offering Niagara to the market through its OpenSparc program, in which specifications of the microprocessor are being shared in an open-source community with hardware and software developers.

Sun has also formed an independent OpenSparc governance board to set the direction and ensure adherence to open-source standards for the UltraSparc T1 platform.

The OpenSparc community introduced in July a new Linux distribution, Gentoo Linux, which supports UltraSparc T1 in the latest release of its open source operating system.

Sun introduced UltraSparc T1 in December 2005 and released the chip design code, known as the Register Transfer Language (RTL), in March of this year. Since then, Sun said there have been 3,500 downloads of the RTL and 2,600 downloads of code for designing an application to run on the T1.

Fadi Azhari, director of marketing and business development for Sun's OpenSparc program, attributes the strong interest to the T1's capabilities.

"It's such a breakthrough in the market in terms of what it delivers," Azhari said. "It has eight-core, 32 threads, which is roughly four to five times more performance than anything else that is out there in the marketplace. That's generated a lot of interest."

Among the members of the OpenSparc governance board is Nathan Brookwood, senior analyst with Silicon Valley research firm Insight 64.

It is significant to note that Sun is apparently drawing interest from non-Sun customers, Brookwood said.

"Sun really had no UltraSparc products that were so compelling that a customer not already in the Sun camp would be motivated to switch," he said. "Niagara [T1] is truly different ... in terms of providing good performance with miserly energy consumption. So if you have a data center that is maxed out on thermal issues but still have more work that needs to be done ... then this is like manna from heaven."

Sun's resurgence is evident in second-quarter revenue figures from research company IDC. Sun's server revenue rose by 15.5 percent to $1.6 billion in the second quarter of 2006, from a year earlier. Revenue fell in the same period by 2.2 percent for industry leader IBM and by 1.7 percent for second-place vendor Hewlett-Packard. Although Niagara was new to the market in the second quarter, it should add to the momentum Sun is enjoying, Brookwood said.

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