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SPARC users now have to look to Fujitsu, and not Sun, as the spring from which faster SPARC chips and servers will flow. Fujitsu is a company you may not know much about. This independent article provides a history of Fujitsu's main contributions and milestones in the SPARC market.
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Fujits...Who?

A Primer on Fujitsu's SPARC Heritage

Important stuff you need to know if you're betting the server farm on SPARC

by Zsolt Kerekes editor of the SPARC Product Directory - July 5, 2004


SPARC History
Surviving the Solaris x86 Wars
Joining the Dots in OpenSPARC
Last Market Report on Sun Compatible OEMs?
Looking Back at 3rd Party SPARC Technology Firsts
compared to EMC - dissecting the surreal positioning of AFA startups
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Fujits...Who? - A Primer on Fujitsu's SPARC Heritage
Two years ago, in July 2002, I wrote an article called Sun Users Waiting for Fujitsu? in which I said that Fujitsu might be the only hope for Sun customers who were suffering from Sun's inability or unwillingness to push forward the SPARC performance envelope and keep pace with competing architectures. Little did I imagine that it would actually take so long for this to happen.

In October 1993 in my article Are Sun's Days Numbered? I ran a report that Sun and Fujitsu were talking about collaborating on future SPARC chip developments and merging product lines. We had to wait till June 2004 for confirmation of this in a joint Sun and Fujitsu press release.

Also in June 2004 came the announcement from Fujitsu that it would be shipping servers using its 5th generation 1.89 GHz SPARC64 processor in September. This is a SPARC processor which is 60% faster than any single SPARC processor which you can buy today from Sun, and it's the start of the roadmap for all forseeable future high performance SPARC servers from Sun.

Here's the important part.

If you have investments in SPARC servers then, looking ahead, it's going to be Fujitsu that delivers future enhancements in SPARC chip technology and not Sun. There's no one else left in this market who will come in as a white knight and save the SPARC market from being a dinosaur. You have to feel comfortable with that or start making plans to switch to another platform.

Most of you won't be familiar with Fujitsu's track record in the SPARC market, and that's why I put together this article to pull together some snippets of SPARC History from our archives.

Some Past SPARC Milestones by Fujitsu

Fujitsu's SPARC products have left a weak impression in the minds of most Sun users. That's partly because the company's past efforts have been fragmented, disjointed and sometimes unsuccessful in the market.

Within the SPARC systems segment the company has created and then killed or stealth marketed brands more often that Buffy the vampire slayer has saved the world from armaggedon. Fujitsu's SPARC systems companies and brands have included:- HAL Computer, turboSPARC, ICL, Amdahl, Fujitsu Siemens (in Europe), Fujitsu Technology Solutions (in the US) etc.

1993 - Fujitsu's European subsidiary ICL previewed its GoldRush Megaserver, a 64 SPARC CPU capable server, originally rated at 6,000 transactions/second. It ran Unix, but not Solaris. ICL later merged into Fujitsu Siemens Computers.

1995 - Fujitsu owned HAL Computer launched the industry's first workstations based on a 64 bit CPU, HAL's independently designed first generation SPARC64. HAL's workstations did run Solaris, but failed to make a dent in the Sun compatible market. Within a few years, Fujitsu closed down HAL and merged its server and chip technology into the short lived Fujitsu Technology Solutions, which then became Fujitsu Computer Systems.

1997 - Fujitsu Microelectronics's 32 bit TurboSPARC was a user installable upgrade chip for Sun's SPARCstation 5

2001 - Fujitsu's independently designed SPARC servers didn't suffer from the cache design problems in Sun's own systems (see the article Unsafe At Any Speed?). That was first sign that Fujitsu's combination of semiconductor and computer experience could deliver a vastly more reliable SPARC server than Sun's inexperienced designers who made a fundamentally bad design decision.

2002 - Fujitsu's SPARC servers started making headlines for their performance, as in this December 10, 2002 news story... "Fujitsu Technology Solutions Inc. today announced best-in-class results in industry-leading benchmarks on its PRIMEPOWER 850 SPARC compliant, Solaris compatible servers."

2003 - In October the pieces of the jigsaw started to come together. We reported... a news story today in JapanToday.com speculates that Sun Microsystems may reduce development costs by pooling resources with Fujitsu on the design of future high end SPARC servers.

...Later - in April 2007 - the results of this partnership emerged as the "SPARC Enterprise" product brand.

Musing (2004)

I'm reminded of the 25 year old battle between Intel and AMD in the x86 compatible chip market. In 1980 AMD was persuaded by Intel to drop its support for the competing 16 bit Z8000 processor which AMD was making as a second source to Zilog, and instead to support Intel's 8086. For over 20 years AMD struggled to make money from its x86 processors, and then Intel made a terrific blunder by launching a 64 bit CPU which was not x86 compatible. Now AMD owns the 64 bit x86 market and is on a roll with that product.

In 2001 Sun lost its repuation for making reliable servers because of its badly designed cache memory which was sensitive to alpha particle radiation and which didn't include adequate error checking and correction. In the period 2001 to 2004 - Sun lost the performance lead of SPARC over Intel by late to market and badly executed semiconductor design. Fujitsu, a world leading chip company, now has products which can put SPARC back onto a competive track. Sun has tacitly admited that it will take a back seat in chip design and stick to tweaking the Solaris OS and marketing. Both jobs which Sun does well.

Past setbacks with some SPARC products haven't stopped Fujitsu's support for this technology. They have kept plodding on when dozens of other server companies have exited the SPARC market. Without that long term investment and consistency - SPARC wouldn't have much of a future today. ...Fujitsu profile, ...Sun profile, aspects of SSD design processors used in SSD controllers and systems
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In Memoriam:- Some Dead and Past SPARC Chip Companies

Solbourne - made its own SPARC chips, workstations and servers in the 1980s and early 90s. Also the first multiprocessor SPARC systems

Weitek - introduced the SPARC power microP, in 1993, 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. This product was a one hit wonder.

Ross Technology - announced its hyperSPARC CPU's as user installable competitive upgrades to earlier MBus machines from Sun in 1994. 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 in 1995

Fujitsu Microelectronics' - 32 bit TurboSPARC (in 1997) was a user installable upgrade chip for Sun's SPARCstation 5

Texas Instruments - has been a silicon foundry (chip making subcontractor) for Sun's SPARC chips throughout the 1990s and upto 2004. TI doesn't have a stake in SPARC architecture and has never had the rights to market SPARC chips.

Sun - doesn't own a wafer fab, which is why it can't recruit the world's best chip designers. But that helps its bottom line too, because chip making is an expensive and complicated business.

Other SPARC chip manufacturers have been focused on the SPACE and embedded markets and don't make commercially competitive processors.
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Sun / Fujitsu SPARC Server Line Finally Sees Light of Day
TOKYO - April 17, 2007 - Fujitsu and Sun Microsystems, Inc. today unveiled a new line-up of co-developed mainframe-class servers.

The new servers, based on the SPARC architecture and running the Solaris 10 OS, are the fastest SPARC servers ever, and will be marketed by both companies and affiliates under the "SPARC Enterprise" product brand. This the culmination of over two years of joint development between Fujitsu and Sun, building on their 20-year strategic relationship.

The new servers (available today) address the growing customer need to maximize system utilization by offering an array of highly granular partitioning and domaining technologies. The SPARC Enterprise servers are also designed to ensure minimal downtime. The systems marketed by Sun and Fujitsu are identical except for branding, and Sun guarantees 100% Solaris binary compatibility. ...Fujitsu profile

Editor's comments:- I first reported on the start of this project 4 years ago in 2003.

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