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SPARC Server Market 2007 to 2009 Growth and Threats

by Zsolt Kerekes, editor
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Predicting the Next 3 Years in the SPARC Server Market - (2007 to 2009)

Editor:- December 8, 2006 - as I predicted in an article 2 years ago the SPARC market in 2006 has shown strong signs of recovery and even double digit revenue growth.

Looking ahead there are some technology and market trends which can increase SPARC server revenue growth in 2007 but also some competitive challenges which could slow down growth in 2008 and 2009. But the slowdown is not inevitable, and Sun's SPARC server growth can be sustained for the whole period if Sun reacts to the competitive situation adequately.

SPARC success and growth factors - (2007 to 2009)

Throughput computing - end-users have bought into the concept that in most applications - the peak performance (which is related to CPU clock rates) is less important than the sustainable average processor throughput. So although Sun's SPARC chips have lagged behind Intel Architecture chips in peak performance - the SPARC chips have increased their competitive advantage in throughput. This has been achieved because Sun packs 2 to 3 times as many processor cores in its multi-core CPUs than any of its competitors.

That design concept has also delivered the benefits of providing more CPU power in a single motherboard while consuming less electrical power. As Sun's main target market is telcos whose datacenters have run out of physical space - the current and next generation of SPARC servers offers the most attractive way to increase datacenter processor power. As one telco told me recently - "there's no more room on the carpet for more servers."

In the time frame 2007 to 2009 - there will be a massive growth in telco and ISP infrastructure to meet the needs of the new internet video market. Some mainstream broadcasters have already started to make selected content available on the web - and from those small steps - it is likely that broadband video on demand (narrowcast transmission) will replace satellite and cable broadcast in the next handful of years. That's an application in which predictable volumes of high throughput computing can manage the job - and the ultimate in CPU clock rates is not required. Many current video on demand pilot solutions are not scalable - because the storage is too slow. But this problem is fixable with new server farm architecture - (see below).

SPARC's biggest risk factor - (2007 to 2009) SSD-aware OS from Microsoft

In November Microsoft added solid state disk support to its Vista operating system. That was aimed at speeding up and extending the battery life of notebook PCs. When this capability is ported to its enterprise server OS - it will mean that I/O bound wasted CPU cycles (which currently waste 50% to 75% of datacenter capability) will be unlocked by the addition of relatively low cost SSD accelerators. The effect will to double application performance of server farms running the new OS - thereby canceling out the advantages delivered by Sun's higher density of SPARC chips.

Although I expect work on that suspected Microsoft project to reach the public domain soon - Sun will get a breathing space of about a year - before this SSD-aware enterprise OS component starts to impact Sun's SPARC server sales - in the first part of 2008. That's because the launch release only supports a single SSD with upto 4G capacity - whereas most SSDs in use as enterprise accelerators are in the range from 32G to over 1T. Another weakness of Vista's SSD support at this time is that the host needs the RAM to be as large as the SSD storage segment. That's a serious weakness for enterprise use - but no doubt it will be tweaked in later versions.

Several years ago in a popular article Why Sun Should Acquire a Solid State Disk Company I warned Sun that it should start its own SSD-aware program for Solaris - but I also admitted that server companies like Sun, HP and IBM had a vested interest in keeping quiet about this technology as it could reduce their server sales - which were flat or declining at that time. I expected they would all wait to see who jumped first. Well - it was Microsoft. So it's time for Sun and Linux to play catch-up.

Depending how Sun reacts to this the SSD threat - it can sustain (or lose) its competitive advantage in 2009. SSDs will double the speed of Sun's SPARC servers too - and that's already being done by SSD magicians on a customer by customer basis.

Looking 3 years ahead is as far as I can go in this SPARC market prediction. And the prospects look better than at anytime in the past 6 years. Just over 10 years ago I published an article called Previewing the 2nd Decade of SPARC Systems in which I invited SPARC industry leaders to make their predictions for what would happen in the period 1997 to 2006 - now past. Most were wrong. Some were right.

As we enter the 3rd decade of SPARC in January 2007 - we have a lot of good things to look forward to.

See also:- article:- Charting the Rise of the Solid State Disk Market

OSDL Lightens the Load

Editor:- December 4, 2006 - Linux developer OSDL has lightened its headcount by a third according to an article in The Register.

What's bad news for Linux is usually good news for Sun. OSDL
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