These T5x20 servers we’re announcing today are a big deal. My bet is that they end up making Sun a lot of money; but on the way, they’re going to bring the whole server business (not just Sun’s piece of it) face to face with some real disruption.

[Update: Wow, dig the blog storm.]

This isn’t Sun’s first many-core “CoolThreads” server, but the first-generation T1 is kind of weird; soaks up huge volumes of Web traffic but shares one floating-point core and probably isn’t what you’d call a “General-Purpose” computer. These new boxes are general-purpose all right; the only weak spot I see is big CPU-bound jobs that just just won’t parallelize for some reason.

The Tech Problem · With the arrival of the T2, we’re all staring a many-core future in the face. I’ve spilled thousands of words on the subject, and in the recent Wide Finder series, have been mano a mano with the problems. (Yes, there are many cases where you can ignore threading, but there are others where you can’t.)

It’s not gonna be a particularly smooth or painless transition. But it’s unavoidable; the only way to deliver large-scale systems at a sane price, particularly if you count in your heating & HVAC costs down the road.

Granted, there’s always scaling out rather than up; some loads will be better served by huge numbers of cheap servers, but there’s still a big place in rational system architectures for a box with Really Big concurrency and Really Big I/O. Particularly if it’s only 2U and cheap to run. Particularly if your whole app will run on the one box (and lots will on this one), so you don’t have to get into the scaling-out voodoo.

The Business Problem · I was doing some customer work last June, toward the end of Sun’s Q4, hanging out with salespeople who were in year-end crunch mode. This one woman was all happy because she’d cut two last-minute deals. One was for a couple of racks of T1-based systems, the other a big storage build-out. She was happier about the storage deal, and I wondered why.

“Problem is,” she said, “you sell someone Niagaras and you won’t see them again for a year or more, those suckers can soak up scary loads. But you sell them storage and they’ll be back in six months, guaranteed. Everybody’s data is out of control.”

I can tell you from my hands-on work, the T2 boxes are going to soak up even scarier loads. But it isn’t our sales-force who should be scared. It’s the competition. “Buy some of these and you won’t need more any time soon.” Seems like a pretty good pitch to me.


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From: Inigo Surguy (Oct 10 2007, at 01:42)

I'd love to see Sun donating a T5x20 to the Computer Language Shootout (disclaimer: I've got no connection with them and no idea if they'd accept one).

It would be really interesting to see what techniques people used in each language to make the benchmarks exploit the multiple cores effectively. Would erlang get an immediate boost in the shootout? Or would other effects dominate?


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