Mythics Blog

An Introduction to Your Server’s Next CPU:  the SPARC M7

Posted on October 3, 2014 by Erik Benner

Tags: Oracle OpenWorld, SPARC

Some changes in technology are evolutionary, some are disruptive but the rarest of technologies are revolutionary in nature.

Examples of evolutionary technology are faster CPUs and larger disk drives.  While they can make a big impact, the industry is prepared to adapt to the changes.

Other technology advancements are more dynamic in nature; yet, require major adaptation in how we interact with the technology.  An example of this disruptive technology is mobile computing, which required users to adopt new devices to interact with the data (smartphones, tablets, etc.).

Revolutionary technologies introduce significant changes to how we benefit as users, yet do not require entirely new interfaces. 

Oracle released its fifth processor since the Sun Microsystems acquisition a few months ago at the Hot Chips conference in Cupertino, California.  At Oracle OpenWorld this week, many of the chip features were revealed to the Oracle community.  This M7 is the first processor that Larry Ellison’s development team was able to drive since design inception.  This is evident in the innovation of the processors core design by John Fowler’s team. The new SPARC M7 processor contains evolutionary changes, like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp’s 16-nanometer production process, and the increased core count from 12 cores to 32 cores.  While these evolutionary changes are important, the revolution that being spawned by this new processor is the introduction of Software in Silicon to accelerate applications.

The first impact of this is the ability for the processor to enhance the security of the data.  This new technology called Realtime Application Data Integrity (ADI) allows the processor to defend against the most common security holes, like buffer overflows and stale memory references.  Attacks like Heartbleed (an attack so vicious it earned a name by the security community) will become preventable. While protecting systems with software is possible, that approach often introduces a significant performance impact up to 100 times slower.   Oracle alleviates the performance impact by having this protection built in to the processor.


Not only is the SPARC M7 more secure, it offers application software in silicon.  This enables options in the data center that were previously unavailable.  At Oracle OpenWorld 2013, Oracle introduced In-Memory database, an ability that move data from disk to memory.  While this significantly improved database performance, the SPARC M7 utilizes in silicon technology to enable real-time decompression of memory. This enables new business methods, like real-time business intelligence, allowing critical business metrics to be generated and analyzed in minutes instead of days, with the limiting factor being the speed of the system memory. Compared to the benchmark record setting SPARC T5 process, single stream performance is more than 10x faster with the M7. Look for new records to be set when the processor becomes available in 2015.

Other silicon accelerators include a SQL coprocessor in each core.  Entire SELECT statements now run at silicon speeds. Not only will the Oracle database run faster, the results of the query are placed into the processor cache, thus speeding up the transaction even more.  The end result is queries running without using any processor resources.  This frees up the CPU for transactional processing.  As Oracle continues to innovate, look for other new enhancements in the processor, like Java Garbage Collection acceleration and Heap Space management for WebLogic.

Although the SPARC M7 is scheduled to ship in early 2015, access for developers is available now through Oracle’s Cloud.  One key point about these technologies - Oracle is making the APIs available to Third Party software companies – to support a truly open platform.

When picking a new technology to power your applications, look at the integration between the silicon and the application.  Software in Silicon with SPARC is one way to transform your datacenter processing with a positive price to performance ratio.

Erik Benner - Enterprise Architect
Mythics, Inc.


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