Sun Details Subscription Software Package, Touts “Throughput Computing”

SunONE and Solaris to be available in unified subscription package

Sun Microsystems Inc. this week disclosed details of a new project, dubbed Orion, that will tie together all of Sun’s key software offerings together with its Solaris operating system in a single package.

Officials describe Orion as an initiative to make Sun’s software easier to manage during all phases of deployment, from purchasing to installation to actual use. Key to Orion will be a subscription-based licensing plan under the terms of which Sun will introduce quarterly updates.

Speaking at Sun’s Worldwide Analyst Conference in San Francisco, executive vice president of software Jonathan Schwartz said that Orion—slated to go live in June—will initially include the Sun ONE bundle of applications and Sun’s Solaris operating environment. Sun ONE describes an application stack that includes a J2EE application server; a directory server; an enterprise portal; and provisioning software. “We will be delivering all of these products on a quarterly release train that will become a single product called Solaris,” he confirmed.

In time, Sun expects that Orion will grow to encompass other products, including its storage management software, but Schwartz didn’t specify a timetable.

Sun will deliver an Orion configuration for Solaris, which runs on both SPARC and Intel x86, and for the open source Linux operating system, Schwartz indicated. Not all of the applications in the SunONE stack are yet available for Solaris on either SPARC or x86, however.

Although Sun anticipates that many customers will opt for Orion, Schwartz said that Sun will also continue to support traditional—i.e., per-CPU—licensing for its Sun ONE applications and Solaris.

Not surprisingly, the scope of Orion invites comparison with the packaging practices of another vendor—Microsoft Corp. But Sun officials indicated that Orion will also better position Sun to compete against both IBM Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co., as well.

Gordon Haff, an analyst with consultancy Illuminata, says that the Unix giant is under some pressure to justify its strategy to both customers and investors alike. In this respect, he acknowledges, Sun is understandably anxious to differentiate its products and services from those of its competitors. Hence, Orion: “Some of it is certainly Sun trying to set itself up as kind of apart from these other guys. Certainly, some of the things that they’re saying here make a lot of sense.”

Sun Touts “Throughput Computing”

Sun was also unusually forthright about its UltraSPARC development roadmap, laying out its plans for UltraSPARC development through 2005.

At the same time, Sun provided details about its new “Throughput Computing” initiative, one focal point of which is a forthcoming multicore chip design that Sun has code-named “Niagara.” Slated to appear in 2005, Niagara will be based on a 90-nanometer process and, according to David Yen, Sun’s executive vice president of processor and network products, will deliver 15 times the performance of today’s processors. It will do so, Yen explained, because it “has multiple cores with multiple thread capabilities per core.”

Although Sun will support conventional UltraSPARC development through 2005, Yen indicated that the multicore technology that will power Niagara is the future of UltraSPARC as well. “We are actually working on a radical design for the S- and I-series [Sun’s two existing flavors of UltraSPARC] … It will lead us to 30 times the performance of what we have today.”

Illuminata’s Haff anticipates that most major high-end vendors will eventually move to multicore chip designs. “Certainly it’s true that building a bigger monolithic chip is not going to solve the world’s computing problems. I don’t think anyone disputes that. A large number of smaller chips are going to give you overall better performance. So this will be the future of UltraSPARC. It will be the future of a lot of other architectures out there.”

In the near-term, Sun this year will introduce an enhanced UltraSPARC III, UltraSPARC IIIi, that will bring the performance and RAS (reliability, availability and security) features of its high-end S-series processors to the midrange I-Series chips that populate its one- to four-way servers.

In 2004, Sun still expects to deliver UltraSPARC IV, which will be pin-compatible with UltraSPARC III and which is based on the 130-nanometer process Sun debuted in the 1.2 GHz chips it introduced last month. On high-end SunFire systems, says Yen, customers will be able to hot-swap-in UltraSPARC IV processors without shutting down. Sun expects that UltraSPARC IV will support roughly twice the throughput of its existing chips.

UltraSPARC V will appear in 2005, Sun says, and will be based on a 90-nanometer process. Yen claimed that UltraSPARC V will support roughly five times the throughput of Sun’s existing processors.

About the Author

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