Friday, February 12, 2010

Two Billion Transistors: Niagra T3

Two Billion Transistors: Niagra T3


Sun Microsystems has been developing octal core processors for almost a half decade. During the past few years, a new central processor unit called "Rainbow Falls" or "UltraSPARC KT" has been in development. With the release of the Power7, IBM's first octal core CPU, there has been a renewal of interest in the OpenSPARC processor line, in particular the T3.


OpenSPARC was an Open Source project started with an initial contributor of Sun Microsystems. It was based upon the open SPARC architecture, which had many companies and manufacturers contributing and leveraging the open specification over the years. Afara Websystems was one of those SPARC vendors who started the intellectual thought on combining many SPARC cores onto a single piece of silicon. They were later purchased by Sun Microsystems, who had the deep pockets to invest the engineering required to bring it to fruition (as the OpenSPARC or UltraSPARC T1) and advance it (with the design of the T2, T2+, and now the T3.) Sun was later purchased by Oracle, who had some deeper pockets.


As is typical with the highly integrated OpenSPARC processors, PCIe are included on-chip, providing very fast access to I/O subsystems.

The T3 looks more like an a combined T2 and T2+ with enhancecments. The T2 had embedded 10Gig Ethernet, while the T2+ had 4 chip cache coherency glue. Well, the T3 has it all, in conjunction with an uplifted DDR3 DRAM interface with 4 memory channels, enhanced crypto co-processors, a doubling of cores!

The benefits to Network Management:

Small and immature Network Management products are usually thread-bound, but those days of poorly programmed systems are long gone (except in the Microsoft Windows world.)

Network management workloads are typically highly threaded and UNIX based. Platforms like the OpenSPARC have played to meet these workloads from their very early design days in the early 2000's, with other CPU vendors anxiously trying to catch up in the late 2000's.

When thousands of devices need to have information polled from numerous subsystems on various minute intervals, latency on the receiving of the information adds a level of complexity to the polling software, and highly threaded CPU's with a well written OS reward the programmer for their work.

It was not that long ago when Solaris was updated to manage processes in the millions, when those processes could have dozens, hundreds, or thousands of threads apiece.

In the Network Management arena, we welcome these high-throughput workhorses!

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