Saturday, July 4, 2009

Rock Cancellation Rumor, The Bizarre, and The Benefits

Rock Cancellation Rumor, The Bizarre, and The Benefits

Rock Cancellation Rumor

There has been much speculation concerning the rumor originating from the New York Times suggesting Sun Microsystems canceled the processor UltraSPARC RK called 'Rock'.

Understanding the history behind 'Rock' provides support to just about any rumor.
  • UltraSPARC III+ was canceled by Sun
  • UltraSPARC IV+ was released late by Sun, with excellent performance
  • UltraSPARC V was canceled by Sun
  • UltraSPARC T1 was deployed on-time by Sun, with excellent performance
  • UltraSPARC T2 was deployed on-time by Sun, with excellent performance
  • UltraSPARC T2+ was deployed on-time by Sun, with excellent scalability
  • Sun Microsystems partnered with Fujitsu to release a joint server product line based around the SPARC64 processor
  • UltraSPARC RK was delayed multiple times by Sun

Rock Unintersting?

There was very good historical information in many trade journals. One of the most bizarre quote regarding Sun Microsystems processor UltraSPARC RK or 'Rock' was from Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research. His quote was widely reported in various trade magazines, such as:
"Even if Rock had made it to market, it would have been an uninteresting processor as companies like Intel and AMD are offering high-performance chips at more reasonable prices, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research."

Suggesting 'Rock' is "uninteresting" demonstrates a level of ignorance beyond comprehension.

Rock Interested Audiences

'Rock' is an interesting processor to Computer Scientists since they have worked for decades trying to optimize single threaded applications. Thread bound applications run with very painful waits when they encounter cache misses on traditional proprietary (Intel & AMD) processors. These waits are a thing of the past on Rock with technologies such as:
  • thread level parallelism
  • thread level speculation
  • transactional memory
  • out-of-order retirement
  • deferred queue
'Rock' is a very interesting processor in the academic world since companies like Intel and AMD have not recently pioneered computer science technologies in silicon to optimize single threaded applications. Implementations of theory in real silicon are very important to review academic thoughts and determine future implications. Implementations like 'Rock' are studied for decades.

'Rock' is a very interesting processor for business, military, and academia system performance of single thread bound applications - software threads on 'Rock' runs with very few of the painfully long waits on slow memory due to cache misses, commonly experienced with Intel and AMD processors. People who purchase systems expect their systems to be doing work, instead of sitting around idle.

'Rock' is a very interesting processor in the commercial world since accelerating legacy single thread-bound software allow for acceleration of existing software (which does not scale well with multiple threads) - something the major CPU developers (AMD and Intel) in rest of the market have been ignoring for a couple of years. If a single thread is the problem, newer CPU's from other vendors will not solve their performance problem, increase the thread bottlenecked performance, and increase the business profitability.

'Rock' is a very interesting processor in the investment community. Sun had pioneered the niche of multi-threaded hardware with the release of their 32 hardware thread UltraSPARC T1 processor - driving other vendors (Intel, AMD) to change their directions to start heavily threading their CPU's... discontinuing projects to speed existing single-threaded applications. The release of Rock would enable Sun to pioneer this lost niche, abandoned by the other vendors. Filling niches are very profitable to investors in those technologies.

'Rock' is very interesting to the environmentally conscience consumer. Very little work has been done recently in the market to increase the performance of single threaded software, with the exception of increasing clock rate, which drives up the costs to consumers in: hardware, cooling, and power consumption. Rock has been the exception - targeting increased single threaded performance without aggressively increasing clock rate and the negatives that go along with it.

'Rock' is a very interesting processor for enterprises struggling with consolidation efforts. Bundling 16 high-speed cores into a single chip which supports LDOM's at the firmware level and Solaris Containers at the OS Level provides a consolidation platform for legacy applications which are not highly-threaded and required high single threaded throughput.

Rock & Role in Network Management

Network Management infrastructure is greatly benefited by highly threaded underlying infrastructure. It is not unusual to tun run hundreds to thousands of polling threads on centralized network management platforms. Any highly-threaded CPU platform (Sun OpenSPARC UltraSPARC T series) help to provide hardware acceleration to the polling processes, reducing the amount of time proprietary CPU's normally spend on context switches, constantly pulling/pushing registers from/to slow memory.

While Network Management sees great performance strides with highly threaded hardware during 24x7x365 operations, not all areas are optimized. Two areas where highly threaded hardware (with slower individual thread performance) need improvement include: startup/shutdown time when the database needs to be loaded/dumped and post-discovery time when data needs to be consolidated with relationships built to all the other objects.

On some very large network topologies with extremely high (99.999) availability concerns - a slow startup time or slow post-discovery time is considered unacceptable - every minute counts in the case of software or hardware failure when protected with a High Availability kit.

Rock provides a mid-range position, between the $100K US$ super-threaded UltraSPARC T2+ SMP processors with high throughput (256 hardware threads) leveraging slower threads, and super-fast $1M US$ super-core'ed SPARC64 VII SMP (256 hardware threads) leveraging faster threads.

Rock's role in network management is clearly defined and beneficial.


Trade journalist writer Jon Stokes came to a diametrically opposite conclusion:
In the end, I can't say that I'm really sold on Sun's very aggressive use of speculative execution, but I will say that Rock is one of the most interesting and novel processors that I've seen in 10 years of covering this space. In its own way, it's every bit as exotic as IBM's Cell processor, but because all of that exoticism is hidden from the programmer it won't be nearly as difficult for developers to deal with.
I think this says it all.

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