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News about SPARC systems and related companies

2001, December week 1

See also:- Squeak! - The Top 10 Storage Software Companies
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Naturetech SPARC portable
SPARC Portables
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SPARC Product Directory SPARC Readership Still Growing

December 7, 2001 - Editor:- this is just a quick note to say that readership of the SPARC Product Directory in November was 19% up on November 2000. I interpret that as a healthy indication that the Sun Microsystems market may soon show some signs of recovery.

A similar comparison for our other main site STORAGEsearch shows a year on year increase of 130%, but unlike our ancient SPARC publication the newer 40 month old storage site is still a long way off reaching the total available market, and still has a lot of headroom for future growth. So the storage growth figure has to be interpreted more cautiously, and does not necessarily reflect the state of the market in exactly the same way.
SPARC Readership Still Growing

Sun Promotion Aims to Shift Slow Moving Workstation Inventory

Sun's 900MHz Rackmount

Dataram First to Double Memory Capacity to 16 Gigabytes in Sun's 280R Server

ACSL Marks 10 Years as a Publisher in the Sun Microsystems Market

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Fibre channel cable
Fibre channel cables on
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Without the right fibre-channel cable to hold things together, Megabyte's system was always falling apart.

Nibble:- What Sun's Cache Memory Problem Reveals

Throughout most of this year Sun's reputation for hardware reliability was plagued by random faults in some of their cache memory products. These problems caused a loss of confidence in Sun's core competence as a vendor of reliable trouble free servers. A recent Computerworld article with Sun's CEO Scott McNealy seems to draw a line under the problem, which Sun now blames on process or design problems in the high speed SRAM chips its was buying from IBM to use in its cache. Sun claims that data bits in the IBM supplied SRAM were being randomly flipped by alpha particles.

It's about 20 years since I last heard about alpha particles affecting memory. In the late 1970's as chip makers prepared to solve the problems of designing the then state of the art 64K (65,536 bits) DRAM researchers at Intel Corp revealed that naturally occurring alpha particle radiation had enough energy to flip a bit in the new design geometry. Alpha particles occur naturally in air, and one source is granite rock. That's why if you live in a rocky area, you are advised to ensure that your ground floor rooms get plenty of ventilation, because the radioactive particles can be carried up through the floor. Anyway a small amount of naturally occurring radiation exists in most places, but unlike high energy gamma rays, the alpha particle radiation is relatively easy to shield. So semiconductor companies back in the 1970's were disturbed to find that their prototype RAM chips were being affected by this radiation.

There were all kinds of scares at the time about what this would mean for the computer industry, and one suggested workaround was error correcting codes (ECC) memory, in which redundant logic was designed onto memory boards which could detect and fix single bit errors on the fly, and detect most double bit errors.

...Anyway, eventually chip makers found that the material which emitted alpha particles was actually occuring as a low level contaminent in the material which they used to coat and protect the chips. Changing those materials solved the problem as far as the electronics world was concerned for about 20 years.

Sun's temporary fix to the problem in their cache was to use mirrored SRAM (ECC was not an option because the logic delay penalty cancels out the speed advantage of using SRAM in the cache). The real problem is probably a materials or process problem in the semiconductor manufacturing chain. Once identified, these problems can usually be fixed quite easily.

This problem affected thousands of users, and one Sun customer wrote to tell us their company had replaced over 1000 UltraSPARC 2 400mhz cpus because of the ecache issue.

Could this have been avoided?

About two decades ago, computer companies spent more time testing and qualifying the new components they used in new systems, and these kinds of problems would rarely have reached customers back in the 1980's. However increased competition has led to shorter delays between new technology becoming available, and being shipped in volume in user systems. Manufacturers now rely much more on computer simulations to get their basic chip integration tested, and don't spend so much time doing physical testing of their new systems. In the 1990's for example Intel shipped millions of flawed Pentium chips with a floating point division bug. However, unlike Sun's cache problem (which caused random faults), the Intel problem operated consistently and had a software workaround.

Sad to say, we are going to see more of these kinds of problems occurring in future systems from all vendors. My guess is that Sun is now going to be ultra cautious about testing the new products it uses, and that may account for some of the delays in getting new generations of faster SPARC systems to market. But if they had employed a few more electronic engineers with gray hairs in the design department, the classic symptoms might have been identified a lot sooner and a lot of customers could have been spared sleepless nights.

Naturetech SPARC portable
SPARC Portables
from Naturetech

Sun Microsystems Sun Promotion Aims to Shift Slow Moving Workstation Inventory

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - December 6, 2001 - Sun Microsystems, Inc. today announced the Sun Ultra Upgrade Program, offering special discounts to Sun Ultra workstation owners who upgrade to Sun's faster, more powerful line of Sun Blade workstations. ...Sun Microsystems profile
Sun Microsystems Sun's 900MHz Rackmount

SANTA CLARA, CA. - December 5, 2001 - Sun Microsystems, Inc. today announced the availability of the 900 MHz UltraSPARC III processor for the Sun Fire 280R rack-optimized, entry-level server, delivering enterprise-class features and availability for today's most demanding applications.

The Sun Fire 280R server with 900 MHz UltraSPARC III processors comes standard with 8 MB of Level 2 cache -- more than 14 times that of most comparable Wintel/Lintel servers on the market -- and provides up to 8 GB of main memory, which allows for faster transactions in input/output (I/O) and compute-intensive environments. The 900 MHz processor running the Solaris 8 Operating Environment boosts performance up to 20% over 750 MHz-based systems.

Available now, the price for an entry configuration is $22,995 for a dual 900 MHz Sun Fire 280R server with 8 MB of e-cache, 2 GB of memory, dual power supplies, dual 36 GB, 10000-rpm FC-AL internal disks, and DVD-ROM. The configuration comes standard with Remote System Control. The Sun Fire 280R server can scale up to 8 GB of memory, with two 73 GB FC-AL disks in a single system. ...Sun Microsystems profile
Dataram
. "Due to the limited number of memory slots in these servers, we feel our 8GB upgrade will be well received. Memory intensive applications such as database, EDA chip design and 3D rendering are a few examples of the areas that will really benefit from this extra memory," stated Paul Henke, Dataram's Director of Product Marketing. "Dataram's advanced engineering design experience and high density DRAM packaging techniques are showcased with this new memory. Our goal is to give our customers more options and to improve upon, or go beyond, what the OEM is able to provide."
Dataram First to Double Memory Capacity to 16 Gigabytes in Sun's 280R Server

Princeton, NJ - December 3, 2001 - Dataram Corporation today announced immediate availability of the first 8 GB memory upgrade for Sun Microsystems' Sun Fire 280R server. Dataram's upgrade, enables customers to double the maximum memory capacity of the Sun Fire 280R from 8GB to 16GB. This is a unique product offering not available from the system vendor or any other memory manufacturer.

The DRS280/8192 upgrade consists of a set of four 2GB high density DIMMs. The Sun Fire 280R server has eight memory slots, arranged as two banks of four DIMMs for a total of 16GB. Dataram's memory upgrades can be installed alone or mixed with Sun's memory, as long as DIMMs are installed in sets of four identical modules. They are guaranteed to be 100% compatible with Sun's hardware and software and are backed by a lifetime warranty and free technical support. Contact your local sales representative for a free 30-day, no obligation test-drive. ...Dataram profile

Editor's comments:- some of our advertisers are Dataram authorized VARs who specialise in the Sun market, and will be easier for you to contact about obtaining these products.
ACSL
. ACSL believes that an industry directory shouldn't just reflect the market it's in, but should also help to change it.

"A committed publisher becomes a stakeholder in the markets they cover, and wants to see them succeed and grow" said publisher Zsolt Kerekes.

During the early 1990's ACSL played a part in accelerating the growth of the SPARC market by researching and supplying critical marketing data to leading OEMs, on channels, partners, users and branding.

In fact it was not until 1998, that the company diversified outside the SPARC market, with the launch of its enterprise storage portal called STORAGEsearch.

In recent years there's been a lot of new competition from heavily funded wannabe portal publishers. ACSL sees that as a good thing, because competitive pressure leads to better products in publishing, as well as in systems. Kerekes observed that "if you've been competing for eyeballs with publications from Sun Microsystems for 10 years, then no other publisher can scare you."

Despite new competition, ACSL's readership ends 2001 at record high levels, with growth continuing strong.
ACSL Marks 10 Years as a Publisher in the Sun Microsystems Market

December 3, 2001 - ACSL, a publisher in the enterprise server markets, announced the 10 years anniversary of its incorporation. The company was founded in December 1991 to research the Sun Microsystems compatible market. Its best known publication in the Sun market is the SPARC Product Directory which started life as a printed book called the "SBus Product Directory" in the first quarter of 1992. The publication was renamed with its own exclusive SPARC trademark and transitioned to the web in 1996.

"Nowadays publishing our directories involves the active collaboration of thousands of companies" said publisher Zsolt Kerekes. "But because our publications are now so well known, my job has become a lot easier than it used to be in the early days when I had to explain to everyone what they were all about."

Kerekes admits that he knew nothing at all about publishing when he started ACSL and made a lot of fundamental business mistakes in the early years. "But luckily when the web came along, all publishers restarted with a level playing field, and it was an ideal medium for this kind of information."

"I'd like to thank everyone who uses our publications, my content partners and all our advertisers for helping ACSL get through a difficult year in 2001."

Looking ahead, in the next few weeks, the SPARC Product Directory will include a series of articles which will provide an up to date survey of the market landscape at the end of 2001, and predictions for the next 2-3 years ahead. ...ACSL profile

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SPARC(R) is a registered trademark of SPARC International, Inc. SPARC PRODUCT DIRECTORY(SM) is a service mark of SPARC International, Inc used under license by ACSL. Products using the SPARC trademarks are based on an architecture developed by Sun Microsystems, Inc.