It's not the end of SPARC chips yet

Fujitsu is taking the lead in developing SPARC after changes in Oracle roadmap

Fujitsu is helping to keep SPARC from extinction as it continues to design and develop the architecture. The company has introduced two Unix servers -- the M12-2S and the M12-2 -- using SPARC chips based on a new CPU architecture.

The M12 servers are about 2.5 times faster than their predecessor, the M10, which used the older SPARC X chips.

Oracle and partner Fujitsu are the only companies using the SPARC architecture, and share a healthy partnership. Devotees of SPARC feared the architecture was on its way out after Oracle restructured its Solaris OS and chip roadmap and Fujitsu adopted ARM architecture to build Japan's flagship supercomputer, Post-K, which is due for release by 2020.

In an interview last year with The Register, Fujitsu said that SPARC wouldn't hold up in the long run and that ARM would provide a strong software ecosystem.

But Fujitsu has developed the new SPARC XII chip, and the company remains committed to the architecture, said Alex Lam, vice president and head of the North American strategic office for global product business at Fujitsu.

The decision to use ARM in the Post-K supercomputer "doesn't indicate any decisions about the SPARC platform," Lam said.

Fujitsu is also planning a chip based on a new SPARC architecture for around 2019 or 2020, according to an updated product roadmap. The chip will be faster and have interconnect and embedded software improvements.

Fujitsu is one of the few server makers dealing in Unix mainframes, in addition to  Oracle, IBM and Hewlett Packard Enterprise. SPARC has a storied history, but saw significant changes after Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems in 2010. Servers with SPARC chips are mainly used for Oracle databases.

The M12-2S and M12-2 servers run the Unix-based Solaris 11 OS, and are optimized for Oracle applications and system management tools. But Lam said the servers can also support other big data, machine learning and ERP applications.

The M12-2S is a high-uptime server with beefy hardware. It is designed around modern hyperconverged systems from top server vendors. The server can pack up to 32 12-core Sparc64 XII CPUs, up to 32TB of memory, and has liquid cooling. It also has RAS (reliability availability and serviceability) features to tackle data errors and to ensure servers are always up and running. The price of an M12-2S with one CPU, 32GB of DDR4 DRAM, 600GB SAS storage and system activation is about $49,000. 

With similar specs, the M12-2 -- a mid-range dual-socket Unix server that supports up to 24 cores and 2TB of memory -- is priced about $35,000.

Fujitsu is claiming the fastest performance per core with its SPARC64 XII, which clocks up to 4.25GHz. Applications execute faster, and over fewer cores, which helps reduce software licensing costs, Lam said.

The SPARC servers are tweaked so legacy software can be ported from old to the new systems. Fujitsu also has its own deep-learning and algorithm technologies that it can offer its server customers, Lam said.

Oracle also resells Fujitsu servers.

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Agam Shah

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