| leading the way to the
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| SPARC History from 1987 to 2010 |
This was originally published in 1996 - as the
1st decade of SPARC - in the SPARC Product Directory -
and thereafter archived weekly from SPARC news upto the time of Sun's
acquisition by Oracle
In the beginning...
It has to be said that in 1987 when
the first SPARC based
computer, it certainly wasn't clear that SPARC was going to become the leading
hardware platform for serious server applications. At that time most computer
manufacturers were talking about introducing their own
RISC based computers.
The few which have survived as the engines of today's Unix derived computers
SPARC, HP's Precision
Architrecture, and Silicon
Some others continued as graphics or floating point accelerators:- such as the
transputer, and Intel's 860, and 960 RISC processors.
IBM's original PC-RT was abandoned and
replaced several years later with the much more successful PowerPC
family also started much later. Many others vanished without trace once SPARC
In 1987 Sun had already achieved a leading position in the Unix workstation
market with its two product lines based on
and Intel 386 processor
positioned as a lower cost, lower performance workstation compared to the
Motorola based Sun-3 family. The 386i's DOS emulation and ease of use feature
were calculated to entice users who might be intimidated by the cold shell of a
pure Unix machine. In fact, within a few years, Sun was to drop both
Intel and Motorola platforms and migrate its entire customer base to SPARC.
why did Sun and most other minicomputer oem's turn to RISC?
The market developments which encouraged all minicomputer oem's to look at
a RISC strategy at that time were:-
- designing their own RISC architectures offered minicomputer oem's the
attraction of breaking away from a dependence on the two main
manufacturers of microprocessor chips at the time (Intel and Motorola).
Systems vendors hoped to differentiate their products, which was difficult to do
when they all used the same processor chips. In 1986 over 90% of PC's used
Intel chips, and over 90% of workstations used Motorola chips. Today it's still
true that over 90% of PC's use Intel architecture chips, but the largest
proportion of Unix derived RISC systems actually runs on SPARC.
- the relatively low cost accessibility to
using gate arrays. Chip manufacturers who needed high volumes to recoup their
capital investments of hundreds of millions of dollars (now billions) had
figured out a way of producing standard product families of chips called
gate arrays, which were
identical except for the last few steps of the production process which defined
the interconnections. This enabled computer systems companies to buy state
of the art fabrication by effectively buying batches of wafers on a time-share
basis from a few thousand dollars upwards, instead of the millions of dollars
required previously .
- the deskilling of the chip design process by sophisticated
computer aided design
enabled computer systems designers to design, test and simulate most of the
design stages at their workstations, without needing knowledge of the underlying
manufacturing process parameters. The software enabled designers to work at a
logic function-block level without having to worry too much about the realities
of interconnections, datapaths and process variations. This revolution in
hardware logic design was akin to the invention of high level programming
languages which enabled programmers to write their applications in terms of the
problem, rather than needing to know exactly how the computer was built or wired
...Later:- November 2010 -
Micro was LSI Logic's smartest ASIC customer - according to one comment in
LSI's 30th anniversary article.
- the computer market had grown weary of the high costs of applications
obsolescence, as one generation of computer hardware and software replaced
another. Learning from the rapid technology changes in the early days of the
Intel architecture PC market, users were starting to appreciate that open systems standards
which were supported by many manufacturers helped increase choice and
performance while at the same time keeping a lid on costs. In the multi-user
application area, only one operating system - Unix - seemed to offer a safe
choice. The proprietary alternatives from market leaders DEC and IBM, were very
capable, but had a higher entry cost. For vendors, the simplicity of
licensing and porting Unix onto their own hardware gave many small computer
companies the ability to offer serious competitive alternatives to the low and
mid range computers being sold by their much larger competitors on proprietary
The SPARC Product Directory
has traced many of the historical developments in this market. Here are some of
the highlights. See dates below.
At the end of 1996, we observe that the SPARC systems market has grown
The 1996/97 edition of the SPARC Product Directory contained nearly twice as
many pages, more than four times as many products, and twice as many suppliers
as our first edition. All the indicators we see suggest that this growth in
the SPARC market will continue.
The availability of two competing 64 bit CPU SPARC chip sets (UltraSPARC
Microelectronics, and SPARC64 from Fujitsu owned HAL Computer) clearly
demonstrates that SPARC has reached a market size which will continue to attract
competitive products even at the cutting edge of technology and performance for
SPARC is more than just an "Open" architecture. SPARC is a good
place to look for anyone looking beyond the performance envelope of a desktop
PC. The breadth of performance covers the full spectrum from portables to
supercomputers. The range of hardware interfaces and connectivity options is
unsurpassed. The applications experience represented by over 12,000 Solaris
applications packages and the largest installed base of multi-processor servers
makes SPARC the safe choice for your seriously complex computing application.
Sun's policy of licensing technology and encouraging other oem's to use Sun
developed interfaces means there's always a competitive choice for your next
During the first decade of SPARC systems, price, as well as
increased in scalability. At the start of the decade in 1987 you could
expect to pay about $40,000 for a usable SPARC based system. If you paid more,
then what you got was more I/O, RAM or disk, but the processor power was
restricted to a single CPU. By the end of 1996 a high end SPARC mainframe could
cost over $1M, while at the low end, you could get a desktop SPARC based
webterminal, the JavaStation for under $1,000.
Dates - 1987 to 1999 - key SPARC market milestones
The chronology below lists some of the significant events in the first
decade of SPARC systems. With a pool of thousands of subjects we could have
chosen from, we apologize to anyone involved with products or events we've left
out. If you would like to nominate your own products, please send an email to
ACSL subject: SPARC history, and we'll consider adding them in, or creating an
alternative reader inspired history page.
- Sun introduced the the first SPARC based computer the Sun-4. This
was a VME bus based machine and was packaged
in the same enclosure as Sun's top of the line Motorola based Sun-3 servers.
- Sun started the
an email newsletter to keep partners, customers and internal Sun personnel up to
date with the rapid stream of Sun's new products.
- Sun, with other partners set up
Inc as the industry body to disseminate technical information about SPARC,
and facilitate the licensing of technology and trademarks.
Sun introduced the SPARCstation 1, rated at 12.5 MIPS, 1.4
MFLOPS, about 3 times faster than the Sun-3 model it replaced. This blew away
all other competition on the desktop, because most competitors were still
waiting to get volume quantities of Motorola's 68040 chip, to replace their
68030 models. In fact the 68040 took a long time in coming, which forced many
workstation oem's to ship older models with the promise of a future upgrade.
The SPARCstation 1 was the first computer to include an SBus interface.
December 6, 1989,
Microsystems announced the industry's first 3rd party SBus cards.
These were:- the 10Base-2 Ethernet Controller, the SCSI-SNS Host Adapter, the
Parallel Port, and the 8-Channel Serial Controller.
- Sun introduced the SPARCstation 2, rated at 28.5 MIPS, 4.2 MFLOPS.
- Sun introduced the SPARCserver 600MP. This was Sun's first
multiprocessor machine, and was the last generation of computers from Sun to
include the VMEbus. However, each processor card also included 4 x SBus slots.
The 600MP processors ran at the same speed as the SPARCstation 2, but underlying
the design was the new
which enabled field upgrades to faster CPU's, when these became available in
- Sun introduced the SPARCstation 10.. This was Sun's first desktop
multiprocessor machine, capable of having 1 to 4 CPU's.
Technology introduced the SPARCbook 1. The first true SPARC portable
indication of how the SPARC compatible market had grown by this time, is that
the first edition of ACSL's SBus Product Directory included details of
over 75 oem's making SPARC computers and SBus cards, and over 300 products.
At the end of 1992, Sun launched the SPARCcenter 2,000
a 20 CPU capable datacenter server which remained Sun's flagship until 1996.
- Cray Research launched the SuperServer 6400. A datacenter server
with 64 x CPU capability.
ICL previewed its GoldRush Megaserver, also a 64 CPU capable server,
originally rated at 6,000 transactions/second.
Chip manufacturer Weitek (now part of Rockwell) introduced the SPARC
power microP, a user installable CPU upgrade with clock doubling technology
aimed at customers of SPARCstation 2's, and IPX's. These competed directly with
Sun's own board swap upgrade program, and showed that the installed base of
SPARC computers had reached a critical mass.
- ICL did the largest ever rollout of new SPARC server products, with its
teamserver and superserver product lines, with integral RAID
capability, with every model rated in transactions/second.
Integrated Micro Products (IMP) launched the FT-SPARC the
first SPARC computer to be designed from the chips upwards as a genuinely fault
Sun replaced the SPARCstation 10 family with the similar, but higher
performance SPARCstation 20.
Ross Technology announced hyperSPARC CPU's as user installable
competitive upgrades to earlier MBus machines from Sun. In later years,
hyperSPARC and Sun's own superSPARC competed for MBus slots in the factory as
well as the installed base. Later that year, Sun started to include hyperSPARC
models as alternative choices in its SS-20 family.
- Fujitsu owned HAL Computer launched the industry's first workstations based
on a 64 bit CPU, HAL's own SPARC64.
Shortly after HAL's announcement, Sun finally launched the long expected
Ultra 1, and 2 workstations which used Sun's 64 bit UltraSPARC
From the 1995 edition of the SPARC
Launched in Q4 95, the Ultra 1 and 2 were
the start of a new generation of SPARC based workstations and servers from Sun
Microsystems. These models are positioned as high performance workstations, with
intrinsic memory and processor performance above the SPARCstation 20 class,
which has been discontinued by Sun.
The most obvious architectural feature is that the Ultra range uses
the 64 bit UltraSPARC processor. The wider databus provides
intrinsically faster performance than a 32 bit CPU at the same clock speed, but
Sun has optimised the performance of the dataflows in the CPU to extract
significant performance gains compared to previous SuperSPARC and HyperSPARC
implementations. Additionally, the new visual instruction set (VIS)
includes hardware for visual manipulation which was previously only available on
external boards. Building these features into the CPU supports very high levels
of graphics performance. There is no MBus in the Ultra machines.
Processors, I/O and RAM connect via a crossbar switched interconnect which Sun
calls UltraSPARC Port Architecture (UPA). SBus has been retained as the
I/O expansion interface in these models. As with previous Sun models, there's
room in the basic system design to support faster processors (up to and beyond
Ultra 1 model 140 model 170 - Single processor workstations
with 64 bit UltraSPARC CPU. Model 140, 143MHz CPU, delivers 215 SPECint_92, and
303 SPECfp_92. Model 170, 167MHz CPU, delivers 252 SPECint_92, 351 SPECfp_92.
RAM 8 SIMM sockets provide up to 512M. Graphics options:- in addition to the
usual SBus graphics available on previous Sun models, the Ultra 1 is supported
by a new family of Creator, or Creator3D systems connected via the UPA. New 3D
RAM technology delivers upto 600M pixel operations/second.
Interfaces:- UPA (crossbar on motherboard), SBus (32/64 bit 60M bytes/sec),
SCSI-2 (10M bytes/sec basic models, 20M bytes/sec FastWide on Creator models).
Ethernet (10-BaseT for models 140, 170), (10-BaseT and 100-BaseT for 170E
Creator models). Parallel - Centronics compatible port DB25 connectors. Serial
I/O 2 x RS-232/RS423 with DB25. Audio 16 bit 8KHz to 48KHz, internal speaker,
external mike. Keyboard/mouse interface Sun 5, AT 101, or Unix. Internal drive
options:- 3.5" floppy, quad speed 644M Sun CD-ROM. Tape:- optional 4G or
8G DDS2 4mm, or 14G 8mm. Winchesters:- up to 2 x 3.5" x 1" (1G or 2G),
or 1 x 3.5" x 1.6" (4.2G). (3 SBus slots) Operating system - Solaris
2.5 or later.
Ultra 2 - Multiprocessor workstations with 64 bit UltraSPARC
CPU. Upto 2 x CPU's per system. Other features and interfaces as per the faster
options for the Ultra 1, 170E above. (4 SBus slots )
Launched SunWorld Online - the world's first independent Sun
publication on the web.
(The 1995 market review text below is
unchanged from the SPARC Product Directory published at that time.)
Developments in 1995 - Q1 announcements
Sun Microsystems launched
two desktop models that redefined the entry level for SPARC based computers. The
SPARCstation 4, which replaced the SPARCclassic as Sun's lowest price entry
level desktop workstation, and the SPARC Xterminal 1 which replaced the
SPARCclassic X as Sun's lowest price desktop terminal. It's likely you would
only use the SPARC Xterminal 1 if you already have SPARC servers running
Solaris. But at a launch price $1,600 below the entry level workstation, it's a
serious contender for sensitive budgets.
In the past, X terminal customers who didn't need the high graphics
performance of CAD applications tended to go elsewhere for their desktop
terminal needs e.g. to HP,
or Tektronix. But as more SPARC servers are deployed in commercial database
applications, Sun can't ignore the business potential of large numbers of
terminal seats. The cost engineered features in this model (i.e. it doesn't have
the fastest processor from the SS-4 because most people don't need it) show that
Sun is taking this segment of its market more seriously, and would like to get
more of this kind of business.
General Imaging launched its Texas Instruments based TMS 320C80 SBus
Co-processor card. The S/IP80 card is designed for signal/image processing
applications. The TMS 320C80 is a single chip which includes 4 x 32 bit DSP
parallel processors running at 25MHz delivering up to 1 Billion operations per
second. If that wasn't quite enough, the card also includes an on-board video
digitizer. Multiple cards can be run as part of a software coherent system that
scales up to 30 billion operations per second.
Market Developments in 1995 - Q2 announcements
main event in this quarter was the SunWorld exhibition in San Francisco. The
trends seen in the products exhibited were evolutionary rather than
revolutionary. More vendors are now positioning their products for telecomms or
Internet use. Most vendors now have something to say about how their products
can address the needs for High Availability applications, although there are
still very few vendors who have complete solutions in this area.
Data/Ware launched the DW3300, an SBus to IBM Channel Interface.
This emulates an IBM 3088 adapter and enables an IBM mainframe running the MVS
operating system to transfer files and jobs to an attached SPARC host. Although
file transfers can operate in either direction, it's likely that the main use of
such a product will be to offload CPU intensive tasks from the mainframe.
However, there are also many organizations which still use their IBM mainframes
as the main repository for corporate data, and in those cases the transfers may
go the other way.
Market Developments in 1995 - Q3 announcements
The summer can be a quiet time for new product announcements, although
this year witnessed the biggest computer market launch ever, in the shape of
Microsoft's Windows 95 rollout. It's possible that most other computer vendors
wisely avoided doing anything in this time frame because they would have found
it hard to attract much attention in the glare of Microsoft's publicity.
Two announcements in the media world this quarter had special
significance to Sun users, the launch of SunFlash (aka FlashBack) as an
independent newsletter, and the launch on the world wide web of SunWorldOnLine.
Apart from the issue of timing, and the common theme of Sun related news, the
publications also share an editor, inasmuch as John J. McLaughlin the editor of
Flashback is also the new products editor for SunWorldOnLine.
The first of these announcements concerned changes in the structure
of the Internet based email newsletter called "SunFlash" (there's also
another variant called "FlashBack"). SunFlash had been running for
over 6 years as an in-house communications organ of Sun Microsystems. During the
summer, it became an independent commercially run news service, although its
editor John J. McLaughlin, remains at the helm.
The main effect for the 140,000+ people who receive this newsletter
is that independence from Sun will help to broaden out the coverage of products
and news, although it's reasonable to assume that most of the material will
still have a core based around Sun, Solaris or SPARC. If you don't get this news
service, you can get general information on how to subscribe by sending an email
Flashback@FlashBack.COM with 9001 in the Subject line.
The second media announcement was the
of a magazine called SunWorld Online on the world wide web. You can see
this magazine for yourself on: http://www.sun.com/sunworldonline
This new magazine is published by International Data Group (IDG), and
it's edited by much of the same team which produced Advanced Systems. The latter
is no longer available as a printed magazine. To quote from their own press
..."SunWorld Online is heir to a line of print publications
dating back to 1988, when a renegade marketing group at Sun founded the
quarterly Sun Tech Journal. Sold to IDG in 1990, it became SunWorld, a monthly
magazine with a circulation of 72,000 plus editions in Japan and Great Britain.
In 1994 the name changed to Advanced Systems in order to broaden its
subscription base to 90,000 Unix readers. This May the decision was made to
become the first major computer magazine to go completely digital."
We wish both these new titles good luck, and hope that you'll get a
chance to have a look at them.
...Later:- 5 years later -
December 19, 2000
- SunWorld Online relaunched as UNIX Insider to reflect changing industry
trends. "UNIX has not been `just Solaris' for many years," said
UNIX Insider Executive Editor Joe Franklin in a letter to readers.
Developments in 1995 - Q4 announcements
The quarter hadn't started as we went to press, but there's no doubt
that the most significant launch for users of SPARC systems will be the new
UltraSPARC based servers from Sun Microsystems. The UltraSPARC processor is a 64
bit CPU and ushers in the start of a new decade for SPARC systems. (The first
SPARC systems were shipped by Sun in 1987). Doubling the datapath from 32 to 64
bits would normally provide a potential doubling of performance (other factors
being equal) but as reported in earlier editions of this directory, the SPARC
Technology Business (STB) division of Sun has introduced intrinsic
architectural support for multi-media applications in addition to speeding up
the pre-existing processor cores. When the first systems ship, they will run
existing 32 bit Solaris application binaries from 3 to 6 times faster than
current SuperSPARC systems.
As you'd expect from any new processor, applications which are bounded
by the performance of a single processor will run a lot faster. But another
benefit, is that the new processors can address large physical RAM more
efficiently, so that Solaris users who have large databases (over 4G) or other
large data sets can look forward to a speed-up in running their applications and
can stop looking at competing products such as Digital Equipment's Alpha. Two
general factors of interest to current users, which may get lost in the hype
when the new UltraSPARC systems are launched.
1 - The I/O interface supported is SBus. (This is deduced from the
chip-set which accompanies the UltraSPARC. ) The consequence is that SBus will
remain a significant expansion technology for SPARC based systems for some years
still to come.
2 - The memory bandwidth of the first generation UltraSPARC is
already close to the maximum limit of the MBus, and any MBus based
implementation of this 64 bit processor would throw away most of the potential
performance gains. Therefore users shouldn't expect to see MBus based
enhancements to their existing systems (anytime soon) as they have already seen
with the HyperSPARC generation of upgrade products. However, upgrades may still
be expected in the traditional form of board or system level swaps.
The fact that UltraSPARC machines will need to be new designs rather
than modified MBus designs also means that there may be a delay before most
other vendors get their new 64 bit SPARC products to market.
STB has affirmed that some of the features which contribute to the
high performance of the 64 bit UltraSPARC (which is a 4 way superscaler design)
will trickle down to a future generation of low cost microSPARC III based
products. So whatever the performance level of your current SPARC systems, all
users will eventually benefit from the performance and increased market
confidence that arise from this launch. You'll also be able to hang on to your
investments in SBus cards and related software and reuse them in a new
generation of faster systems.
Retrospective... In fact Fujitsu owned HAL Computer, was the first
company to launch a 64 bit SPARC based computer, based on their own developed
SPARC64 processor. The HALstations were announced less than a month before Sun's
Ultra 1 and 2.
1997. The market's first
SPARC SBCs launched by
- Sun acquired IMP. The Sun-IMP business unit is expected to transfer its
fault-tolerant technologies within Sun's product range, and continue its strong
penetration in the telecoms market.
Sun acquired the SPARC business of Cray Systems, from its new owner
Silicon Graphics. These included the products, technolgies and customer base
associated with the SuperServer 6400 family.
Sun launched its family of Ultra Enterprise
servers which included configurations upto 30 x 64 bit CPU's, and 30 x
SBus channels. These Sun models, with an internal Gigaplane I/O bandwidth of 2.5
Gigabytes/second, set new standards of leadership for Unix datacenter servers.
Sun launched the JavaStation. A microSPARC based Network Computer,
at a price point below $1,000
Sun Microelectronics launched the SPARCengine Ultra AX. This was an
UltraSPARC based motherboard running Solaris with PCI-bus expansion, instead of
the usual SBus. This was the first time that the industry standard PCI-bus, from
the Intel PC world, appeared in a production SPARC based computer.
1996 market review text below is unchanged from the SPARC Product Directory
published at that time.)
Market Developments in 1996 - Q1
In this period Sun came to the attention of a wider audience than
usual as a result of its reported attempt to purchase Apple Computer. If you
ignored the inevitable speculation about why Sun would want to buy Apple, the
real reasons for which is only known to a handful of people, you would still be
left with the conclusion that Sun Microsystems is now a large enough company and
has sufficient financial muscle to seriously contemplate acquiring any one of a
whole bunch of household names in the computer market if it really wanted to.
Although Sun is very well known in the server market, and millions of computer
users are connected via SPARC machines somewhere in their workplace, this was
the first time that many non technical people in the wider PC market became
aware of Sun as a significant player.
As we went to press, Silicon Graphics Inc (SGI) was making moves to
purchase Cray Research. Cray Research manufactures the "big brother"
of Sun's SPARCcenter 2000E, and this move would provide a useful extension to
SGI's product line. It's likely that SGI would be able to sell more of these
high end machines than Cray Research because it has a larger installed base, and
it's easier to work upwards than sell a point product at the top of the
SPARC Technology Business, the division of Sun Microsystems which
develops new processors and markets technology at chip and board level to other
OEM's changed its name to Sun Microelectronics. The "Sun" brand is
more appropriate as this business now includes the marketing of Java chipsets
which are more strongly associated with Sun as a software standards developer.
SPARC workstation competitors Tatung Science and Technology Inc, and
Axil Computer both announced the availability of new workstations which
incorporate the 64 bit UltraSPARC processors from Sun Microelectronics. Tatung
customers can upgrade their COMPserver 20 products by replacing the processor
board. The Axil Ultima 1 family is shipping with Solaris 2.5.
While we're on the subject of go-faster hardware, this edition of the
directory includes a new contender for the title of fastest SBus disk interface.
Meltek Data's SBus Fibre Array controller claims 106M bytes/second
channel rate. More than just a fast
RAID, the Fibre Array,
also from Meltek supports multi-host connectivity, and potentially up to 450G
bytes of fault tolerant disk storage.
This quarter also saw a few cosmetic changes in this publication,
with the name change from the "SBus Product Directory" to the "SPARC
Product Directory." We also introduced a format change, so that instead of
printing different editions of the directory in Europe and the USA, at slightly
different intervals we've now got one edition, one cover and one paper size.
Also in February 1996 -
merger talks with Apple ended.
ACSL published the
last ever printed edition of the
SPARC Product Directory and
completed the transition to the web format which had been started in the summer
1998. SPARC pioneer
closes down operations.
1998. SPARC notebook makers Tadpole Technology and RDI Computer
merged to form Tadpole-RDI.
1998. Anticipating the next big change in the server market -
Examples ot hot products in the market this year included:-
For the period January 2000 to
December 2006 - refer to the archived daily SPARC news in the right hand
column on this page. (You may have to make your browser window wider to see it -
and scroll up a bit.)
SPARC History Resources|
|by Zsolt Kerekes,
the first time I saw a Sun workstation was back in 1986
- sitting on my
wife's desk at
her new job as product manager for a start up ASIC company. (She also had a
terminal for a VAX on the same desk too.)
It was common in those days
for computers not to talk to each other. Back in my own office on my desktop I
had a PC which enabled me to communicate with our sales people, and a VDU
through which I could log into various Unix or real-time computers we were using
or building for our customers.
When I saw that Sun-3 workstation in
1986 I was really impressed!
It was better than any of the Unix boxes
back in my HQ. Within a short period I decided to ditch the other Unix platforms
we were using and signed up my company as a Sun VAR. And within a few years we
were also oeming Sun's SPARC motherboards in our VME based systems too.
1991 set up my own company as an
to research and publish a new
directory for what I anticipated would be a fast growing exciting market
for SPARC systems. In that context as editor and publisher I spoke to every
manufacturer in the SPARC market and over 1,000 Sun VARs too over the years
In the early to mid 1990s I was an enthusiastic
SPARC evangelist and a great believer in SPARC's ability to deliver cost
effective, reliable and fast servers. The SPARC ecosystem in those days
included hundreds of manufacturers, many independent chipmakers and over 50
companies who made their own workstations and servers.
It was a
privilege for me to have close contact with all the companies who were making
waves in this market, and also with the editors and sales teams working in many
other Sun SPARC related magazines, ezines and websites. Even Sun thought what I
was doing was a good idea. It was helping to grow their market and I got a lot
of useful publicity from their press machine - while remaining genuinely
independent. Our paths were aligned on the same course for many years.
of what you read in these SPARC history pages was written at the time from
direct first hand sources. Sometimes, I've retrospectively added corrections
or snippets - from readers who were involved in the market - or from trawling
some of the tens of thousands of emails in my inbox about this subject.
learned a lot from my experience in the SPARC market
I've been lucky
enough to adapt these lessons in my later life - to the
storage market where I still
earn my living by reading and writing about fascinating technology markets.
- about how new technology markets can grow
- how to become an internet publisher
- and the importance of reliable information.
good things come to an end.
In April 2009 Oracle
an agreement to acquire Sun Microsystems for
approximately $7.4 billion.
This ended nearly a decade of
speculation about the future of Sun Microsystems, a company which created
a unique server business peaking at over $20 billion annual revenue at the
turn of the Millennium.
You can read how Sun created that market, then
lost it piece by piece and then finally lost itself in the
storage market in these articles,
written as events unfurled - which track the
22 History of SPARC
|Here are some other resource pages
|When the first SPARC
computers were launched, they were all single processor systems... |
|A SPARC processor in 1987 was a 32 bit CPU
clocked at 16.67MHz with a performance of about 10 integer MIPS and 1.6
The 1987 SPARC CPU chip was implemented in a Fujitsui
20k-gate, 1.3-micron CMOS gate array.
The 2nd implementation was
a full-custom 0.8-micron design from
and operated at 33 MHz and 20 MIPS. ...Many thanks to Robert B Garner - who
was lead architect of SPARC and co-designer of the Sun-4/200 - for contacting me
and supplying the above information.
In 1995, the fastest SPARC
processors were the UltraSPARC models used in Sun's Ultra 1. These were 64 bit
CPU's with a clock speed of 167MHz providing a performance of 252 SPECint_92.
The way of measuring performance has changed but that's a speedup of over X20
for a single CPU, and over 1,000 times faster for a maximally configured
After 10 years of development a SPARC mainframes
could have 60 or more processors installed.
below you can see thousands of
archived SPARC news stories which track daily developments in the SPARC
market from 2000 to the
chronicles the year
leading up to Sun's acquisition by Oracle
Q4 2008 - Sun Sources
SSDs from STEC
2008 - Sun Fires New Salvo in Server Virtualization Wars
July / Aug 2008 -
Sun and Fujitsu Unveil SPARC64 VII Servers
7 years later than
customers needed was symptomatic of Sun's failure to satisfy
In a technology roadmap in 1996 the fast growing Sun
had promised that SPARC CPUs would remain at least twice as fast as those
made by Intel or AMD. Instead they were slower.
Q2 2008 - Sun Buys
x86 Chip Company
2008 - China Becomes New OpenSPARC Incubator
Q4 2007 - Dell Will
Offer Solaris on PowerEdge Servers
September 2007 -
LEON3 SPARC Licensed for Space Missions
August 2007 - Sun
Ships UltraSPARC T2
2007 - SUNW becomes JAVA
president and CEO of Sun said - "The Java brand and technology have
evolved to be among the most pervasive on the internet, yielding extraordinary
awareness for Sun and opportunity for the community that leverages it."
the time my "editor's comment" was - "This gets the
prize for being the stupidest thing I have heard from Sun in recent years. If
Sun hadn't weakened the SPARC brand for the past decade and lost most of its
shareholder value than SUNW would still be worth something more than it is
...Later:- the strong vacuum in Sun's marketing
thinking demonstrated by it choosing JAVA as its new ticker symbol - are seen
more clearly in retrospect.
JAVA is not a product or item which ever
headlined in Sun's financial reports. Instead of choosing "SPARC" or "Solaris"
or even leaving it as "SUNW" Sun made a statement that it wanted to be
remembered as a developer of program scripts - in the same way that we remember
Ritchie invented the C programming language, and that
Berners-Lee, working at CERN, invented the World Wide Web...
from the historic point of view - but a business irrelevance today.
2007 - Sun's Results Show Failure to Leverage Storage
Sun revealed that its storage revenue was down 10% compared to
the year ago period. That was at a time when many of the other top 10 storage
companies were reporting over 20% revenue growth.
It was clear to storage analysts like me that Sun had failed to
leverage any worthwhile benefit from its expensive
StorageTek 2 years earlier. Users were regarding Sun mainly as a tied storage
supplier, instead of an open supplier of storage to non-Sun servers. So the
company had to make its server business work better to survive. Storage was not
going to be its get out of jail free card.
June 2007 - Sun
Blade 6000 Launched
May 2007 - UMC to
Make Sun's SPARC Chips
April 2007 - ASCDI
Files Anti Competitive Complaint Against Sun
March 2007 - Sun
2007 - NextComputing Ships 1.6GHz SPARC Portable
January 2007 - Sun
Returns to Profitability
December 2006 -
Previewing the Future of the SPARC Market
Transitive Demos SPARC Apps on Intel Boxes
November 7, 2006 - Transitive
announced the availability of a virtual appliance that provides an evaluation
release of QuickTransit for Solaris/SPARC-to-Linux/x86-64 pre-installed within a
VMware Virtual Machine.
The virtual appliance provides data center
managers with a quick and easy evaluation of Transitive's innovative hardware
virtualization solution by allowing them to execute their Solaris/SPARC
applications inside a VM on a 64-bit x86-based system, running either the free
VMware Server or the high-end VMware Infrastructure 3 platform. No software
installation or configuration is required.
...Later:- although long anticipated, this showed that the rising tide
of the new
Solaris Migration (away from Sun's SPARC) had passed a pivotal point. All
previous offerings had been engineer intensive, costly and error prone, suiting
only very large customers who could offset the migration costs against lower
cost server hardware.
With the promise of automated tools - users who
had hung onto their SPARC setups (but who were still dissatisfied with Sun)
found it easier and less risky to take that first step.
2006 - Sun announces OpenSPARC Community Advisory Board
board is chartered with setting the direction for
OpenSPARC, a community that fosters the
creation of tools and derivative chip designs based on Sun's UltraSPARC T1
processor. The community now includes a new GNU/Linux distribution,
Gentoo Linux, which is supporting
UltraSPARC T1 in the latest release, and the first published derivative of the
chip design from Simply RISC.
...Later:- oems haven't exactly rushed to join the SPARC
lonely hearts club band.
That's partly because many oems remember
being burned by too
much Sun in the late 1990s.
It wasn't all Sun's fault. (Although
some of it was.)
Much of the corporate Sun-burn which SPARC
collaborators attributed to Sun - was actually due to naiive marketing and a
mistaken belief that SPARC's performance and reliability would stay ahead of
the Intel market. When the IT market shrank - and the technology lead
disappeared - the need for so many co-marketers of SPARC solutions vanished
Processors are no longer the driving force for application
acceleration. Instead - it's solid state storage.
From time to time I
talk to processor chip designers about the potential for very dense
multi-core CPUs designed for an SSD universe. That's the future. It could be
SPARC or it could be Intel. Which one would you go for if you were the product
manager in charge of that?
2006 - SGI Pulls the Plug on MIPS
2006 - Clerity Acquires Sun's Mainframe Rehosting Business
July 2006 - Running
SPARC / Solaris Apps on Intel Hardware
Transitive said it would
soon launch an emulation package to run SPARC / Solaris applications on Intel
/ Linux servers.
Not only would this provide usable performance - but
in some cases the SPARC apps would run faster on Intel servers than on the
original SPARC machines on which they had been deployed.
This made it
much easier for SPARC users to test the benefits of
away from Solaris.
June 2006 - Sun Says
- 85% of the Fortune 500 Have Solaris 10
2006 - Why Solaris will Get 128 Bit Addresses
2006 - McNealy Gives Up the CEO Hot Seat at Sun
March 2006 - Sun
Releases Source of UltraSPARC T1 Processor
February 2006 - Sun
Embarks on Linux Port for SPARC
January 2006 - SPARC
Notebooks Get SSDs
article:- Sun, SPARC
and Solaris Highlights and Lowlights in 2005
December 2005 - Sun
Announces OpenSPARC Market Initiatives
November 2005 -
Sun's New 8 Way SPARC Chip
October 2005 - Sun's
New Flagship SPARC Servers
September 2005 - Sun
Launches its Fastest SPARC Servers
August 2005 - SPARC
Notebook Maker Tadpole is Acquired
2005 - StorageTek Stockholders Approve Acquisition by Sun
the evidence of Sun's many past failures to become a leader in the storage
market many analysts
(including myself) thought this might just work.
Earlier, in May 2004,
I had published an article suggesting how Sun might be able to turn itself
around coupling its OS and server technology with SSDs - in an article called -
Why Sun Should
Acquire a Solid State Disk Company.
As we now know, 4 years later
(in 2009), the StorageTek acquisition was a waste of money because Sun failed
to re-engineer itself as a storage market leader.
2005 - FalconStor Announces Support for Solaris 10
2005 - Sun Acquires StorageTek
It looked like a clever move by Sun, whose earlier go it alone
storage forays had mostly ended as expensive mistakes. But Sun paid too much and
did too little, too late in the fastest growing part of the storage market -
May 2005 - Sun and
Dell Tie for 3rd Place in Server Revenue
April 2005 - Red Hat
Kicks Out Sun in Italian Bank
2005 - Solaris 10 Passes One Million Licenses Milestone
February 2005 -
Sun's Knockoff Ads Delusional - Says Article
2005 - BiTMICRO's E-DiskSAN Certified Solaris Ready
article:- Sun, SPARC
and Solaris Highlights and Lowlights in 2004
December 2004 -
HP Gambles Another $3 Billion on Itanium 2
November 2004 -
Sun Missed the Server Revenue Growth Wave
October 2004 -
Sun to Resell Solid State Disks from TMS
September 2004 -
HP's Sun Eclipse Program
August 2004 - New
Sun Fire Speaks SPARC Solaris and Windows
July 2004 -
Intransa Ships 125th IP SAN to SPARC Solaris Customer
June 2004 -
Fujitsu's 1.9 GHz SPARC Processor
For many years Sun didn't know
how to design the fastest SPARC processors, and Fujitsu didn't know how to
market them. Eventually the dynamic duo did some collaborative sounding
partnerships. But by then most server buyers had lost interest.
May 2004 - IDC
Says Sun Lost Out to Linux and Intel
April 2004 -Sun
Gains $1.6 billion from Dispute with Microsoft
March 2004 -
NatureTech Launches Dual 1.28GHz UltraSPARC Portable
February 2004 -
Mellanox, InfiniBand and Sun
2004 - UltraSPARC notebook breaks the $2,000 barrier
2004 - Force Announces Design Win for SPARC SBCs
the Top #10 Most Important SPARC Manufacturers in 2003
December 2003 -
Sun Reaffirms Commitment to Solaris x86
2003 - Tadpole Launches UltraSPARC-IIIi Notebook
18, 2003 - Tadpole
Computer announced VIPER, an UltraSPARC-IIIi powered notebook with
integrated wireless capabilities.
VIPER provides more than 2x the
performance of other SPARC notebooks. It supports up to 2GB memory, up to 80GB
disk storage, DVD/CD-RW drives, 10/100 Ethernet, a PCCard slot, 3x USB 2.0
ports, external video, printer port, PS/2 ports and audio in/out connections.
It comes pre-installed with Solaris 9, GNOME 2.0, StarOffice 7.0,
Evolution 1.4 and Mozilla 1.4. Starting price is $5,995.
Editor's comments:- the SPARC notebook market, started by
Tadpole in 1992, outlived workstations and servers as a
IHV market. You can
read its history
2003 - Sun Anticipates $1 Billion Loss for Quarter
2003 - Gartner Nixes Linux on the Desktop
- 30, 2003 - Themis Servers Get 1.2 GHz UltraSPARC III
August 2003 -
General Dynamics Selects Tadpole's SPARC Notebooks
July 2003 - Sun's
Annual Revenue Declined 8.5%
June 2003 -
Appeal Court Says Microsoft Doesn't Have to Distribute Java
By this time it was clear that Microsoft was going to overtake
Sun in the server OS market, so there was no need to pander to a rival on its
2003 - Sun Signs up as Distributor for Red Hat Linux
April - 2003 -
Sun's SPARC Servers Dip below $3,000
April - 2003 -
Force Introduces Highest Performance VMEbus SPARC SBC
March 2003 - Sun
and Topspin Collaborate on InfiniBand
March 2003 -
Sun's 900MHz UltraSparc III Servers Prone to Crash
February 2003 -
Sun Launches 1.2GHz SPARC Servers
February 2003 -
Imperial Launches Terabyte Class 1 million IOPS SSD
January 2003 -
CompactTCA - New Telco Architecture
January 2003 -
UltraSPARC Notebooks Break the $3,000 Barrier
the Top #10 Most Important SPARC Manufacturers in 2002
December 2002 -
Red Hat to Launch Workstation Client
2002 - Sun Embraces InfiniBand Technology
October 2002 -
Mark Johnston to reCycle Tadpole's SPARC business
weeks 1 - 2a,
weeks 2b - 3a,
weeks 3b - 4,
August 2001 - Sun
is #1 in Unix Storage Market
- Sun Launches x86 Linux Systems
The Sun LX50 was the first general purpose Linux-based server from
This product line arose from
of Cobalt Networks, a low cost Linux server oem, the year before.
tortuous history with Linux and OS's on Intel architecture hardware was
recounted in my article
Remember Xenix? - No
Not the Warrior Princess.
weeks 3 - 4,
July 2002 -
Who's Going to Buy Sun Microsystems? (The Company)
May 2002 - week 2
- Sun's Workstation Shipments Declined 27%,
weeks 3 - 4,
April 2002 - New
3GHz hotSPARC Server
March 2002 -
Fujitsu Announces "DESTINATION SOLARIS" Program
weeks 1 - 2,
week 1 ,
weeks 2 - 4
1, week 2,
weeks 3 to 4,
weeks 1 - 2
- Sun Confirms Q3 Revenue Decreased 43%
2001 - Sun Microsystems, Inc., (NASDAQ: SUNW) a leading provider of hardware,
software and services that power enterprises and network computing, today
reported results for the first quarter of fiscal year 2002 which ended September
Revenues for the first quarter were $2.861 billion, a
year-over-year decrease of
...Later:- in the aftermath of 9/11 - all the
big server and storage companies announced collapsing revenues.
interesting to read how this was reported at the time. Unlike the rest of the
market - Sun didn't bounce back to its previous market eminence.
weeks 3 - 4,
- Sun is #1 in Unix Storage Market
officially released its independent numbers on U.S. information storage units
ranking Sun Microsystems Inc. atop the UNIX® storage market for the 3rd year
in a row, confirming that Sun is No. 1 in worldwide revenue of the consolidated
UNIX storage market.
At the time I said - "this press release from Sun
actually gives you a very misleading idea of Sun's true market position in
Sun was #1 for storage in a captive Unix market
which mostly consisted of Sun servers.
I inserted a
chart which showed
that EMC's revenue in RAID
systems was nearly 5x as high as that of Sun.
July 2001 -
weeks 1 - 2,
July 2001 -
Sun's Q4 Revenue Declined 20%
Although the dotcom crash had already
hit the Intel server market 3 quarters earlier - Sun had continued reporting
It seemed at one time that the company was
invulnerable. The 1st shock was in April 2000 - when Sun reported that its
revenue growth was flat. But this (in July 2000) was the 1st time in Sun's
history it had reported negative revenue growth.
Later we were to hear
reports of channel stuffing. Sun had delayed its own bad news by allegedly
shipping stock to VARs who didn't realize that Sun's meteoric rise was to
To save costs Sun shut down its plants and offices
during the 1st week in July 2001.
In the absence of Sun news - I
published a daily spoof blog -
Diary of a
Workaholic Sun Partners Program Manager.
weeks 2 & 3,
June 2001 -
Tatung Announces Small Form Factor UltraSPARC III Server ,
had been an active SPARC oem for 10 years. This was one of the last SPARC
product announcements from the company.
May 2000 - Free
Standards Group founded (later Linux Foundation),
April 2001 -
Sun's Revenue Growth Hits Brick Wall,
March 2001 - Sun
is World's Fastest Growing Server Company, Says IDC
weeks 3 & 4,
weeks 1 - 2,
December 2000 -
Force Launches ultraSPARC-IIe-based VME SBC
December 2000 -
IBM's Growth Outpaces Sun's in Midrange Unix Servers
December 2000 -
SunWorld Online Relaunches as UNIX Insider
October 2000 -
Atmel Ships SPARC Processor for Space Applications
weeks 1 - 2,
$5 Billion quarter ,
This was Sun's finest hour. Revenue was 33%
up year on year.
By a strange twist of fate - in the same month - we
ran 2 other news headlines which, now in retrospect, warned that all of this
would end soon.
Red Hat Leads Global Linux Use in New Surveys
IBM, Intel, Microsoft Eclipse Sun and Oracle with World's Fastest
Commercial Server Cluster
And in the next quarter - Intel issued a
warning that a recession was about to hit the PC and server market.
June 2000 - Sun
Maintains Commanding Lead in the UNIX Server Market ,
May - week
- week 1,
March 2000 - VA
Linux Systems Acquires TruSolutions
February - week
1, week 2,
January - week
2007 - Sun liked this SPARC History article so much that they
some of the text to use on their 25 Year Celebration site. But they didn't
include an attribution. Naughty Sun! |