Coolthreads & Containers come to Comverse
By Frederic Pariente on Nov 28, 2008
"We evaluated the Sun Fire T1000 server for our product needs in Value-Added Services. Our benchmark results show significant overall performance gains over existing Sun servers. We are pleased with these results and will continue work with Sun to deploy CMT technologies in our next generation systems."
Alexander Katz, Director, Platforms Product Management, Comverse
At the time Sun released its first server line based on the revolutionary Chip Multi-Threading (CMT) a.k.a. CoolThreads processor design, Comverse was a long customer of traditional UltraSPARC systems from Sun. Over the years, they had learned to love the predictable performance of such a RISC processor pipeline, the reliability of Sun Netra servers (NEBS-certified for demanding Telco environments) and the guaranteed upward binary compatibility of the Solaris operating system. The latest supported configuration then, for the component of Comverse Messaging Alexander Katz was referring to, was 210/240-class UltraSparc3i-based systems running Solaris 9, and a typical customer deployment would include several of these servers.
In a permanent effort to strengthen customer loyalty and improve the price/performance of its solutions, Comverse challenged Sun Microsystems and our ISV Engineering group to gain an order of magnitude in price/performance for Messaging. The Telco industry had started to adopt Linux then so Lintel looked here like the default alternative and safe choice. Such a choice however was not leveraging the trust the customers had built in SPARC, the up-front cost of migrating from Solaris to Linux was high, and a me-too solution was not giving any competitive advantage to Comverse. So we introduced the Sun T-series systems and their CMT design, running Solaris 10.
Sun's CMT processors are both multicore --T1 and T2 processors have 8 cores-- and multithreaded, that's the novelty --T1 has 4 hardware threads per core, T2 8 threads per core. The zero-cost thread-switching feature of the CMT core allows to drastically increase workload, compared to a classical RISC core, without impacting latency thus yielding high throughput. Many applications do not have however the inherent scalability to sufficiently load a single T-class system --up to 256 hardware threads in the 4-way Sun SPARC Enterprise T5440 Server. This is where Solaris 10 and its Zones, a.k.a. Solaris Containers, came into play. Zones are an operating system virtualization for partitioning Solaris systems --they are kinda lightweight logical instances. Each zone has its own IP address, process space, etc. A Zone simply appears as a brand new OS instance to applications while the sysadmin continue to run/manage a single Solaris kernel/system --thus no extra admin cost hidden here.
In the case of the Comverse Messaging component we benchmarked, the underlying Tomcat server did not scale over 4 threads. Using zones, we were able to consolidate inside a single T1000 server (Solaris 10, 1x1GHz, 8GB RAM, 1GigE, 1 RU) the multiple application instances that originally ran across a rack of Netra 240 servers (Solaris 9, 2x1.2GHz, 2GB RAM, 100Mbit, 2 RU). We reached peak performance with 4 zones --and linear scalability!-- and delivered the throughput performance of 8 Netra 240 servers, leading to a dramatic server consolidation --translating into exceptional 16:1 footprint reduction and COGS reduction. The certification and benchmark of the CMT configuration could be done without recompiling the application thanks to the guaranteed binary compatibility of Solaris, reinforcing the fact the Solaris 10 Sparc CMT platform was the lower-risk & lower-cost alternative for Comverse and its customers.
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