Meet the Next-Generation SPARC

New SPARC M8 processing power and Software in Silicon features bring better performance and security.

By Tom Haunert

November/December 2017

On premises or in the cloud, hardware and software typically align with different products and services. Compute power from a data center system processor or a public cloud service delivers processor core frequency, while security and programming language–specific operations are most often delivered through software.

SPARC M8 and its Software in Silicon technology bring high-performance processing and software features to the processor, and the new processor is at the core of updated SPARC M8 systems, including three different SPARC T8 servers, a SPARC M8 server, and the SPARC SuperCluster M8 engineered system. And SPARC M8 will be the processor power behind Oracle Cloud Infrastructure Dedicated Compute Classic – SPARC.

Oracle Magazine sat down with Marshall Choy, vice president of systems product management at Oracle, to talk about the new SPARC M8 processor and how it bridges the hardware/software divide.

Oracle Magazine: What are the key hardware improvements in SPARC M8?

Choy: SPARC M8 includes a new core design with 32 5.06 GHz processor cores, which effectively yield a 50 percent improvement in single-thread performance over SPARC M7. SPARC M8’s memory bandwidth runs at up to 185 gigabits per second, which is a 16 percent improvement over SPARC M7. And SPARC M8 has reduced memory latency, compared to SPARC M7, by almost 10 percent.

Oracle Magazine: How does SPARC M8 performance compare to x86 and SPARC M7?

Choy: SPARC M8 delivers 2 times faster OLTP [online transaction processing] performance per core than x86, 1.4 times faster than SPARC M7 microprocessors, and up to 7 times faster database analytics than x86. SPARC M8 produces 2 times better Java performance than x86 and 1.3 times better than SPARC M7 microprocessors, as well as 8 times more efficient Java streams processing.

With SPARC M8, we’ve doubled the security performance over SPARC M7.”

Oracle Magazine: Like SPARC M7, SPARC M8 includes Software in Silicon technology. What is it, and why is it important?

Choy: Software in Silicon capabilities are an answer to the question of how customers can improve business processes. With Software in Silicon, we looked at how we could optimize existing processes in silicon.

When we first started developing the SPARC M7 about seven years ago, some of the big problems we forecasted and were going to need to solve were things like analytics and security. Software in Silicon addresses these things—things that are either expensive or difficult to do in software—and implements them in the microprocessor with much greater efficiency.

The eighth-generation SPARC M8 includes Software in Silicon version 2. First launched in SPARC M7, Software in Silicon provides security protections and accelerates a variety of critical business tasks. SPARC M8 security includes always-on hardware-based memory protection and end-to-end encryption. Data Analytics Accelerators deliver breakthrough performance for running database analytics and Java streams processing.

Oracle Magazine: What has changed for Data Analytics Accelerators [DAX] in Software in Silicon version 2 in SPARC M8?

Choy: We’ve increased the clock rate on the Data Analytics Accelerator cores and, therefore, the ability to process with Data Analytics Accelerators. We‘ve also implemented open application programming interfaces [APIs] for DAX, so the use cases for Software in Silicon version 2 have expanded significantly from the initial release of the DAX in Software in Silicon in SPARC M7. This API feature in Software in Silicon version 2 enables the 8 times more efficient Java streams processing I mentioned earlier.

Software in Silicon capabilities are an answer to the question of how customers can improve business processes.”

We‘ve also added some new functionality called Oracle Numbers, which provides consistent precision floating-point calculations. We have Oracle Numbers accelerators on the SPARC M8 processor, which help to further accelerate database analytics performance.

Oracle Magazine: What’s new in security for SPARC M8?

Choy: Software in Silicon version 2 on SPARC M8 continues to include silicon secured memory, which protects against situations such as invalid and stale references, buffer overflows, and buffer overreads. It protects against the approaches used in the Venom and Heartbleed exploits of a couple of years ago.

Software in Silicon version 2 on SPARC M8 also continues to include on-chip encryption that comes with minimal performance impact. We’ve enhanced the range of cryptography ciphers on the SPARC M8 processor. We support AES ciphers and hash functions such as SHA [Secure Hash Algorithm]—SPARC M8 is the only processor in the industry to natively embed SHA-3. The performance that we can deliver for these types of security enhancements compared to SPARC M7 is a generational improvement. With SPARC M8, we‘ve doubled the security performance over SPARC M7.

Next Steps

LEARN more about Oracle’s SPARC M8.

LEARN more about Oracle’s SuperCluster M8 engineered system.

WATCH the Oracle’s SPARC M8 launch webcast.

Photography by Bob Adler/The Verbatim Agency