Revamped SunFire 12K and 15K Enhance Performance At Lower Cost

Sun beefs up high-end servers, announces hardware support for Memory Placement Optimization

Sun Microsystems Inc. yesterday tinkered with the packaging of its high-end SunFire servers, refreshing them with new 1.2 GHz UltraSPARC III chips, and announced the formal availability of several long-awaited features.

In addition, Sun disclosed price breaks that it says could save customers as much as 35 percent on the cost of a top-of-the-line SunFire 15K.

Sun first announced its new 1.2 GHz UltraSPARCs in September 2002 ( The company’s high-end SunFire servers are currently powered by its 1.05 GHz UltraSPARC IIIs, which are based on a larger manufacturing process and consequently generate more heat then the 1.2 GHz chips.

Chris Kruell, Sun’s group marketing manager for enterprise systems, indicates that existing SunFire systems can be populated with 1.2 GHz chips that run in tandem with 1.05 processors. “You can add those 1.2 GHz [chips] into a running domain and the 1.05’s will run at speed, and the 1.2s will run at speed.”

Also on Monday, Sun announced hardware support for its Memory Placement Optimization (MPO) technology, which is designed to optimize memory access in Sun’s SunFire 3800 through its SunFire 15K servers. Sun introduced software support for MPO in October 2002 in the form of an incremental upgrade ( for Solaris.

Kruell says that MPO makes it possible for chips in a large SMP system to exploit memory resources that are located physically close to them. This results in better performance for some, largely transactional, applications: “We are seeing performance improvements on code without optimizing it, just by turning [MPO] on, in the 10 percent range.”

In addition, Sun disclosed enhancements to its Dynamic Reconfiguration (DR) technology. DR describes a facility that allows Solaris managers to dynamically attach or detach system boards in a live system. Ideally, DR makes this possible without halting or otherwise rebooting the system or partition.

Kruell notes that Sun is expanding DR to support its MaxCPU cards, which are exploited by customers in compute-intensive Solaris environments to increase the computational performance of their hardware at the expense of I/O. “In the past, you had to reboot the partition that those MaxCPUs were in, now you can on-the-fly add and subtract those MaxCPUs.”

In the area of Solaris enhancements, Sun announced hardware support for version 2.0 of Capacity on Demand (COD) ( in its SunFire Line. COD 2.0 allows Sun customers to unlock excess capacity inside their SunFire systems, and is available at a lower price point than COD 1.0. Unlike the Capacity Upgrade on Demand feature from IBM Corp., however, customers cannot allocate and de-allocate excess capacity as necessary. Confirms Kruell: “This is intended to be a provisioning feature, as opposed to utility computing, so it’s not dial-up, dial-down in the sense that utility computing will be”

The processor uniboards and other components that power Sun’s SunFire servers are used throughout the line, from the mid-frame SunFire 3800 and SunFire 4800 on up.

As a result of the economies of scale associated with this practice, says Kruell, Sun has lowered the prices of its high-end SunFire 12K and 15K servers.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.