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Unleash the Power of Cryptography on SPARC T4

Guest Author

by Rob Ludeman

Oracle’s SPARC T4 systems are architected to deliver enhanced value for customer via the inclusion of many integrated features.  One of the best examples of this approach is demonstrated in the on-chip cryptographic support that delivers wire speed encryption capabilities without any impact to application performance. 

The Evolution of SPARC Encryption

SPARC T-Series systems have a long history of providing this capability, dating back to the release of the first T2000 systems that featured support for on-chip RSA encryption directly in the UltraSPARC T1 processor.  Successive generations have built on this approach by support for additional encryption ciphers that are tightly coupled with the Oracle Solaris 10 and Solaris 11 encryption framework.  While earlier versions of this technology were implemented using co-processors, the SPARC T4 was redesigned with new crypto instructions to eliminate some of the performance overhead associated with the former approach, resulting in much higher performance for encrypted workloads.

The Superiority of the SPARC T4 Approach to Crypto

As companies continue to engage in more and more e-commerce, the need to provide greater degrees of security for these transactions is more critical than ever before.  Traditional methods of securing data in transit by applications have a number of drawbacks that are addressed by the SPARC T4 cryptographic approach.

SPARC T4 Eextends On-Chip Cryptography leadership


1. Performance degradation – cryptography is highly compute intensive and therefore, there is a significant cost when using other architectures without embedded crypto functionality.  This performance penalty impacts the entire system, slowing down performance of web servers (SSL), for example, and potentially bogging down the speed of other business applications.  The SPARC T4 processor enables customers to deliver high levels of security to internal and external customers while not incurring an impact to overall SLAs in their IT environment.

2. Added cost – one of the methods to avoid performance degradation is the addition of add-in cryptographic accelerator cards or external offload engines in other systems.  While these solutions provide a brute force mechanism to avoid the problem of slower system performance, it usually comes at an added cost.  Customers looking to encrypt datacenter traffic without the overhead and expenditure of extra hardware can rely on SPARC T4 systems to deliver the performance necessary without the need to purchase other hardware or add-on cards.

3. Higher complexity – the addition of cryptographic cards or leveraging load balancers to perform encryption tasks results in added complexity from a management standpoint.  With SPARC T4, encryption keys and the framework built into Solaris 10 and 11 means that administrators generally don’t need to spend extra cycles determining how to perform cryptographic functions.  In fact, many of the instructions are built-in and require no user intervention to be utilized.  For example, For OpenSSL on Solaris 11, SPARC T4 crypto is available directly with a new built-in OpenSSL 1.0 engine, called the "t4 engine."  For a deeper technical dive into the new instructions included in SPARC T4, consult Dan Anderson’s blog.

SPARC T4 Eextends On-Chip Cryptography leadership


In summary, SPARC T4 systems offer customers much more value for applications than just increased performance. The integration of key virtualization technologies, embedded encryption, and a true Enterprise Operating System, Oracle Solaris, provides direct business benefits that supersedes the commodity approach to data center computing.  

SPARC T4 removes the roadblocks to secure computing by offering integrated crypto accelerators that can save IT organizations in operating cost while delivering higher levels of performance and meeting objectives around compliance.

For more on the SPARC T4 family of products, go to here.


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