Sun plans eight-way Opteron servers this year

Sun has big-iron plans for Opteron, but users say they need more guidance on just where SPARC fits into the plans

Sun may launch an eight-way Opteron processor by the autumn, the company said at its SunLive05 customer event in London on Tuesday.

Speaking at a seminar on x86 processors, UK entry server product marketing manager Mark Littlewood said Sun will "have eight-processor [Opteron] systems this year." Referring to the technology developed by AMD design house Kealia, which Sun bought for $200m, Littlewood said: "You will see the fruits of that over the next six to eight months — maybe sooner."

An eight-way Opteron server from Sun would push the boundaries of mid-range computing, particularly if fitted with the dual-core processors which AMD expects to launch this summer.

But the march of the x86-64 processors is confusing some customers. Accenture consultant Mike Timbers, who is working on a large computing project at Sainsbury's, said he was concerned at the lack of comparisons provided by Sun between Opteron and SPARC systems. "When you get eight dual-core Opterons in a server, you're talking big iron," said Timbers. "So I'm trying to understand the difference in performance between SPARC and Opteron. It's not clear how to differentiate." While Sun is happy to compare Opteron and SPARC against Intel processors, said Timbers, the company does not do enough to compare them against each other.

"Lack of comparison could be because SPARC doesn't compare very well to Opteron," ventured Timbers. "Nobody wants to go into a purchase like this blind," he added. "We can't do performance testing before we buy, so we rely on the vendors to an extent to give us some steer."

Another Sun user at the presentation, who asked to remain anonymous, said: "Sun thinks that if one strategy is good three strategies must be brilliant, but it often fails to tie them together."

Sun's current top-of-the line Opteron server is the four-way Sun Fire V40z. Littlewood said the company has seen sales of these systems rocket in the past year "The mainstream was two-way systems but now we're seeing real growth in four-way server sales," he said. "Four-ways just mean you can do so much more, like partitioning, and the cost has come down from £30,000 to £40,000 a year or two ago to around £12,000 today.

Although four-way V480 server prices do now start at around £13,500 in the UK, this is for a server with just two processors and 4GB of memory; buying one with the full complement of four processors with 8GB of memory costs around £23,500.

Sun won't be the only company producing eight-way Opteron servers. US-based server maker Pogo Linux already ships an eight-way Opteron server in the shape of the PerformanceWare5864, with prices starting at $23,000 (£12,110), while Motherboard maker Tyan demonstrated a two four-processor board configuration at CeBIT recently.