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New Processor Delivers Advanced Computing at a Commodity Price

Oracle’s SPARC S7 systems and SPARC cloud services can boost performance efficiency and security while keeping things simple.

By John Soat, Chris Murphy, and Tom Haunert

July 2016

What happened to Moore’s Law? More specifically, why is Oracle releasing a new SPARC processor with fewer processor cores and threads?

“Applications cannot continue to scale on lots of cores and threads. We can’t go to thousands of cores. It’s impractical,” says John Fowler, executive vice president, systems, at Oracle. “We think the generation going forward is going to have a lot more innovation around, instead of just cores and threads, advancing the capabilities of the processor itself by embedding new functionality into those processors.”

Scale and advanced processor features are certainly driving the new SPARC designs, but before we talk about the latest SPARC chip, systems, and cloud news, let’s go back in time one year.

SPARC S7 builds on the SPARC M7 innovation.”–John Fowler, Executive Vice President, Systems, Oracle

In 2015, Oracle released the SPARC M7 processor, featuring 32 CPU cores per chip. The SPARC M7 featured innovative Software in Silicon technology—software embedded in the processor—that included Silicon Secured Memory, cryptographic accelerators, Data Analytics Accelerators, and an inline decompression engine. That processor was featured in multiple server configurations and the flagship SPARC engineered system—the Oracle SuperCluster M7—with support for up to 512 CPU cores per rack. Also in 2015, Oracle made the Software in Silicon Cloud available for developers to test their applications on SPARC M7 infrastructure in the cloud.

Flash forward to now. On June 29, 2016, Oracle announced the SPARC S7 processor, featuring eight Software in Silicon–enabled CPU cores per chip, two new servers, a new “mini” engineered system, and a SPARC compute cloud service to support in-production cloud services.

“SPARC S7 builds on the SPARC M7 innovation by taking all the key features, such as embedded security capabilities and analytics acceleration, and redesigns them into an integrated processor at a lower cost,” Fowler says. “This makes it possible to use SPARC S7 in a much broader range of applications than SPARC M7, with great economics.”

SPARC S7 by the Numbers

The new SPARC S7 processor is available in servers, an engineered system, and a cloud service.

The SPARC S7 processor. The SPARC S7 processor features eight fourth-generation cores running at 4.27 GHz, with up to 64 threads per processor, interface integration (including I/O and memory), and Oracle’s innovative Software in Silicon features—Silicon Secured Memory, cryptographic accelerators, Data Analytics Accelerators, and an inline decompression engine. The SPARC S7 fourth-generation cores, speed, threading, and Software in Silicon features are the same as those in the SPARC M7 processor.

New SPARC S7 servers. The new SPARC S7 servers include the SPARC S7-2 and SPARC S7-2L.

The SPARC S7-2 server offers single or dual eight-core processors in a compact 1U chassis. It scales up to 1 TB of memory.

The SPARC S7-2L server includes two eight-core processors in a compact 2U chassis. It scales up to 1 TB of memory and 96 TB of storage.

Oracle MiniCluster S7-2. Oracle MiniCluster S7-2 is an engineered system with hardware and software tightly integrated to work together. Designed for smaller deployments than Oracle SuperCluster, Oracle MiniCluster includes four SPARC S7 processors (32 cores), 1 TB of memory, 16.8 TB of raw flash-based storage, and 48 TB of raw disk-based storage. Software includes Oracle Solaris, Oracle Solaris Zones, and Oracle MiniCluster S7-2 Virtual Assistant.

Oracle Cloud Compute for SPARC. Oracle Cloud Compute for SPARC, based on SPARC M7/S7 processors and Software in Silicon technology, is a dedicated compute service offered at the same price as the Oracle Cloud x86 compute service.

Right-Sizing

If you follow enterprise and consumer computer processor releases, you know that they often focus on speeds and feeds, and sometimes only as an abstract concept. With this Oracle’s SPARC S7 release, however, the focus is on the work that customers can do with the SPARC platform, increased processing efficiency, and faster time to business value for SPARC S7 customers. Here are some basic SPARC S7 facts and numbers, followed by some more-practical performance efficiency comparisons.

First, and most important, the new SPARC S7 includes the same Software in Silicon technology features as the SPARC M7. The processor includes eight cores (and 64 threads), and the cores run at 4.27 GHz. The new processor also integrates I/O and memory interfaces—which is different from the SPARC M7.

The most important comparison for the SPARC S7, however, is not with the SPARC M7. With the performance benefits of Software in Silicon features, including data analytics accelerators, SPARC S7 delivers better per-core efficiency than x86 chips.

Citing industry standard benchmarks, Marshall Choy, vice president of product management at Oracle, points out that SPARC S7’s core processors are 50 percent to 100 percent more efficient than x86 processors. Choy also notes that the SPARC S7’s core efficiency and built-in data analytics accelerators make the S7 well suited for interpreting larger and larger data sets at deeper and deeper levels. “SPARC S7 delivers up to 10 times more-efficient data analytics and machine learning than x86-based systems,” he says.

One at a Time

The design of the SPARC S7 processor makes it possible to build powerful, scalable, and cost-effective systems.

“SPARC S7 is highly integrated,” Fowler says. “We’ve integrated I/O, we’ve integrated the memory interfaces, and we’ve integrated a set of other functions along with the advanced capabilities of SPARC M7 to produce a processor that allows us to build systems and servers at commodity price points.”

The smallest systems that host the SPARC S7 processor are two new scale-out servers: SPARC S7-2 and SPARC S7-2L. The SPARC S7-2 server supports one or two eight-core SPARC S7 processors in a 1U chassis, while the SPARC S7-2L server includes two SPARC S7 eight-core processors in a 2U chassis. Both systems support up to 1 TB of memory, and the SPARC S7-2L supports up to 96 TB of storage. Both the SPARC S7-2 and SPARC S7-2L support SAS/NVMe mixing.

Core, memory, and storage-capacity numbers, however, are not as important as how SPARC S7 performance efficiency compares to other processors in key types of operations. Compared to x86 servers, for example, SPARC S7-2 and S7-2L servers deliver up to 100 percent better per-core efficiency, 1.7x better per-core Java performance efficiency, 1.6x better per-core database online transaction processing (OLTP) performance efficiency, and 2x to 3x more bandwidth for high-traffic analysis and cloud applications.

“SPARC S7 server customers can now achieve commodity x86 economics while realizing security and data analytics acceleration previously only found in high-end servers,” says Choy. “This is a huge achievement and a result of deep engineering—not value subtraction.”

Check the Math

The new SPARC S7 processor is available in servers, an engineered system, and a cloud service.

Mini Only When Compared to Super

Oracle engineered systems are powerful and tightly integrated hardware-software systems. The SPARC S7–based Oracle MiniCluster S7-2, the latest Oracle engineered system, was born from customer feedback.

“Customers wanted a smaller-capacity addition to the family, an extension of the Oracle SuperCluster into the midrange,” Choy says. Oracle MiniCluster S7-2, he says, is ideal for a remote or branch office type of database and application deployment.

Oracle MiniCluster S7-2 hardware includes four SPARC S7 processors (32 cores), 1 TB of memory, 16.8 TB of raw flash-based storage, and 48 TB of raw disk-based storage. Software for the new engineered system includes Oracle Solaris and Oracle Solaris Zones.

Oracle MiniCluster S7-2 introduces Oracle MiniCluster S7-2 Virtual Assistant, which helps make setup and configuration of the new engineered system’s Oracle Database, OS, virtualization, and other software simple—more like the setup and configuration of a smaller dedicated appliance. And beyond the Silicon Secured Memory and cryptographic-accelerator security capabilities in the SPARC S7 chip, Oracle MiniCluster S7-2 Virtual Assistant makes it easier to set up and configure enterprise-class security features with a few mouse clicks.

“We reduced up to 90 percent of the administration time and effort required to configure very difficult things like security, high availability, databases, and general system administration,” Choy says.

SPARC Platform, Cloud Platform

Oracle has also announced a new Oracle Cloud Compute service, running on SPARC S7 processor technology and supporting all Software in Silicon features. With the release of SPARC M7, Oracle offered the Software in Silicon Cloud for developers to test their applications on SPARC M7 infrastructure in the cloud. This new dedicated compute service, however, is for production SPARC workloads, and it’s being offered at the same price as the Oracle Cloud Compute service for x86. Customers can use the new SPARC compute service for cloud bursting, dev/test, disaster recovery, and production.

“To enable our customers to take advantage of this next stage of cloud computing to speed innovation, reduce costs, and drive business growth, we are focused on delivering proven enterprise-grade services such as the Oracle’s SPARC platform in the Oracle Cloud,” Fowler said.

Next Steps

LEARN more about Oracle SPARC S7

Oracle’s New Processor for ‘Scale-Out’ Environments Doubles Down on SPARC M7 Innovations
Here’s Why Oracle Still Engineers Its Own Chips
Oracle Systems

Illustration by Wes Rowell