Oracle's next Sparc chip will feature on-board Infiniband

Oracle regains low-cost religion with a two-socket design for dense servers.

Looks like Oracle was serious about its commitment to the Sparc processor it inherited from its 2010 acquisition of Sun Microsystems. It introduced a remarkable new processor, codenamed "Sonoma," at the Hot Chips semiconductor conference held at Stanford University.

The Sonoma chip is designed for two-socket servers meant to scale out rather than scale up like its current Sparc M6 and upcoming Sparc M7 processors, the latter of which was introduced at Hot Chips last year. M7 is a monster; a 32-core processor designed for big iron systems doing massive IOPS.

Sonoma is a little more modest, just eight cores organized into two blocks of four on the die. Sonoma, and the M7, both feature a new generation core called the S4. S4 comes with two Arithmetic Logic Units (ALUs), one Branch Unit (BU), one Stream Processing Unit (SPU), and one Floating Point Unit (FPU).

The ALU handles integer math while the FPU handles floating point while the SPU handles cryptography and the branch unit handles decisions and makes jumps in making procedure calls. The SPU handles a lot of crypto, including AES, 3DES, RSA, DH, DSA, ECC, SHA-256, and SHA-512.

The S4 also feature four DDR4 memory controllers with support for up to 2TB per processor and supports PCI Express Gen 3, with four internal links supporting more than 75GB/sec. The Sonoma processor, though, has just two DDR4 controllers and 1TB of memory per socket.

Here's the kicker: Sonoma will use Infiniband connectors between the core clusters. The M7 is just too dense with all its cores for something like Infiniband. As The Platform (a deep-dive tech site from a publisher that specializes in HPC) notes, Oracle prefers Infiniband for its engineered systems (Exadata, Exalogic) because of its low latency vs. Ethernet.

Why does this matter? The integrated InfiniBand host controller provides two x4 lanes running at 56 gigabits per second for a total of 28 GB per second of bandwidth out of each Sonoma chip. That will provide a very fast interconnect between two chips that need to communicate.

Oracle has not said if it has built its own InfiniBand ports itself or licensed them, but the belief is that it came from Mellanox Technology, a partner of Oracle's of which Oracle owns a 10 percent stake in.

And as The Platform notes, the only other InfiniBand supplier is Intel, with its True Scale products from QLogic, which are being transitioned to the Omni-Path technology used in the Xeon Phi. It's not likely Intel would part with such an important technology. So Oracle has its own fix for a fast interconnect between chips without reinventing the wheel.

It will be interesting to see if Oracle is really interested in the mid-range of the server market again after letting so much of that go in its focus on the very high-end. Sun had a mass market server line and Oracle let it die on the vine in favor of extremely decked out servers for massive IOPS and transaction processing, which only makes sense given Oracle's software line. There is no launch date so it will be some time before the Sonoma chip hits the market.

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