Sun Microsystems has detailed an UltraSparc road map that describes a bright future for server workloads that can make use of multiple processor cores. But Sun's plans may pose challenges for users, especially those looking to upgrade in the next two years.
The vendor's current processor workhorses, the UltraSparc IV and IV+, will be succeeded by what Sun calls its "Rock" chip. That device will contain up to 16 cores and will be designed for database servers and other applications that require a lot of memory and number-crunching firepower, Sun says. Rock isn't due until the middle of 2008, however.
Sun hasn't said when it will stop making improvements to the UltraSparc IV+, but next summer the company plans to introduce its so-called Advanced Product Line (APL) servers. Those systems are being developed with Fujitsu and will use a Fujitsu version of UltraSparc called Olympus.
APL will replace Sun's existing Sun Fire servers as well as Fujitsu's UltraSparc-based PrimePower hardware line.
Whether users who need upgrades should buy APL machines or wait for Rock-based systems to appear is "a function of timing," says Marc Tremblay, senior vice president and chief architect in Sun's systems group. Customers that need an UltraSparc upgrade after next summer will probably buy an APL system if they can't wait another year.
Rock "hits the midrange and high end pretty hard," Tremblay says, referring to Sun's UltraSparc-based systems. He added that Rock-based hardware won't fully replace the APL line, although he didn't provide details on the applications that might continue to require those systems.