SPARC T4: Best of Both Worlds

August 2011

Delivering on the promised SPARC roadmap, Oracle announced that systems based on a new SPARC T4 processor will be available in late 2011. These systems will provide high-speed, single-thread performance while addressing business needs for high efficiency and throughput expected from multithreaded cores. These dynamically threaded, general-purpose systems are designed to meet a wide range of application demands common in modern data centers, and they include advanced cryptographic functions directly on the core for the highest levels of security.

Single-threaded applications execute instructions in a serial fashion, while multithreaded cores process numerous threads of a single process in parallel. Although most of the Oracle stack performs extremely well on the previous-generation T3 processors, there are times when the higher speed of single-thread performance is required. With the new T4 systems, customers won’t have to assign specific applications within the data center to the new system.

“It’s a general-purpose system, which means you can just assign anything you would like onto this core,” says Rick Hetherington, vice president of hardware development for Oracle’s microelectronic team.

At the heart of the new systems is the SPARC T4 processor. It uses a brand-new core called the S3, which runs at much higher clock rate frequency than the previous SPARC T-Series processors. For large applications that depend on the single-thread capability of the core, performance may accelerate by a factor of 5 compared to the previous-generation SPARC T3 processor.

Hetherington’s team has been working on this family of processors, code-named “Niagara,” for almost 10 years. He says it was a small group of engineers who saw an opportunity to revolutionize what they could do with the Solaris operating system and the multicore SPARC T-Series processor. The results of their hard work are now represented in the T4 processor. “What we were attempting to do all along was increase the thread performance and throughput as we developed the roadmap,” says Hetherington. “And finally I think we found a way of having the best of both worlds. We are really excited about this next generation of SPARC T-Series systems based on the T4 processor. I think it is going to be an eye-opener for the industry.”