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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A deep dive into Oracle's latest SPARC processor

By Nick Flaherty at

I have a soft spot for the SPARC processor architecture and all its struggles over the years, so I was interested to see the launch of the eight generation chip by Oracle.

The 32-core M8 chip is naturally optimised for Oracle's database technology as well as Java, adding security and performance boosts that support up to 256 threads in as little as 2U of space in the data centre.

The SPARC M8 processor-based systems, including the Oracle SuperCluster M8 engineered systems and SPARC T8 and M8 servers, are designed to integrate with existing infrastructures and include fully integrated virtualisation and management for private cloud. 

It includes Silicon Secured Memory, which provides always-on hardware-based memory protection for intrusion protection and end-to-end encryption and Data Analytics Accelerators (DAX) with open API’s.

The M8 is a four-wide issue, out-of-order core with up to 192 instructions in-flight, and supports up to eight hardware threads. It provides dynamic threading to optimize for the highest possible per-thread performance and software can activate up to eight hardware threads (strands) on each core via critical threads optimisation. The processor hardware then dynamically and seamlessly allocates core resources among the active strands. 
The per-thread performance is improved with the enhanced on-chip L2 and L3 cache design and increased processor frequency. The 64 MB L3 cache is fully shared and hot cache lines are migrated to the closest partition to minimise latency. 

The cores and the last level cache are organised as two partitions each containing 16 cores and 32 MB of L3 cache and each core has its own 32 KB L1 instruction cache, 16 KB L1 data cache, and 128 KB L2 data cache. Four cores then share a 256 KB L2 instruction cache for a total of 64 MB L3 cache per processor that is fully shared, 16-way set-associative, and inclusive of all inner caches. Any L3 partition may serve a request from any of the 32 cores of the SPARC M8 processor. Hot cache lines are migrated to the closest L3 cache partition to optimize for performance.

The processor can dynamically trade per-thread performance for throughput by running up to 256 threads, or it can run fewer higher-performance threads by devoting more resources to each thread. This flexibility allows the system to balance overall throughput versus per-thread performance.

“Oracle has long been a pioneer in engineering software and hardware together to secure high-performance infrastructure for any workload of any size,” said Edward Screven, chief corporate architect at Oracle. “SPARC was already the fastest, most secure processor in the world for running Oracle Database and Java. SPARC M8 extends that lead even further.”

The M8 is twice as fast at encryption and hasing as x86 devices (read Xeon) which are comparable to the M7, says Oracle. 
The database gives twice the OLTP (online transaction processing) performance per core over x86 and 7x database analytics than x86, with twice the Java performance. The latest DAX v2 produces 8x more efficient Java streams processing, improving overall application performance.

While there is some doubt over the future of SPARC, Oracle has also publicly committed to supporting the Solaris operating system until at least 2034.

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