Thursday, September 29, 2005

Contrarian Minds: Bryan Cantrill interviewed

DTrace inventor, Bryan Cantrill, is the subject of an interview in the current Contrarian Minds feature on Sun's web site. It's a great read; enjoy.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Lock 1.1 is now available

I sometimes find myself writing little utilities. Those that I think are worthy for "public consumption" I'll make available from my web site. The first of these programs is called lock, and was inspired by its BSD namesake. The program's home page contains more details, including source code, man page, and pre-built binary packages for 10 on SPARC and x86.


Friday, September 16, 2005

AJ and Miranda finally get together!

In addition to Dilbert, JD "Illiad" Frazers's User Friendly is one of my daily "must reads". AJ is a shy web designer who has had eyes for a collegue of his called Miranda for years. Every now and then she tries to get him to admit his feelings for her (she feels the same way about him), but he's always been too shy to say anything.

Today, finally, he admits to Miranda that he has feelings for her, and she responds by giving him a great big sloppy kiss (just don't ask what AJ's hands are doing in that last panel...). Hooray, it's about time!

I just hope this doesn't end up being one of those dream sequences.

Monday, September 12, 2005

By Galaxy, Sun's new x86 servers are here!

Today was Sun's 3rd Network Computing event this year (NC05Q3), and for me this one was the most interesting this year. Today was the day when the first of the long-awaited, AMD-powered "Galaxy" servers were officially announced.

What makes the boxes so interesting is that unlike previous Sun x86 products, these servers are designed in-house. Three servers were announced today: the entry level Sun Fire X2100 (whose base configuration is less than $750 US), and the more up market Sun Fire X4100 and X4200. The X2100 is a dual-core ready single-socket machine, and seems to be related to the Ultra 20 workstation. The X4100 and X4200, on the other hand, are dual-core ready twin dual-socket machines. This is just speculation on my part, but I wouldn't be too surprised to see workstation products related to these to servers in the not-too-distant future.

The X4[12]00 are apparently setting the standard for Sun's next generation of servers: the cases, for example, will be shared with Niagara-based servers. This is a good move on Sun's part as they will be able to leverage economies of scale to keep costs low. (Jeez, I can't believe I just typed "leverage economies of scale"; I sound like a fscking manager!) Anyways, these machines are also Sun's first machines to use 2.5" SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) drives. The smaller form factor enhances the airflow for better cooling. It also has the added bonus of allowing Sun to offer models with four hot-swappable drives in a 1U chassis (although in this configuration a DVD/CD drive can't be fitted).

Also standard with the X4[12]00 servers is ILOM (Integrated Lights Out Management) for true lights-out operation. That's in addition to the 16GB memory capacity, dual hot-swappable PSUs, hot-swappable fans, two 64-bit PCI-X slots, and four Gigabit Ethernet ports. Like all of Sun's x86 products, these servers offer a choice of , RedHat or SuSE Linux, or Windoze (although quite why one would cripple such great machines by using the latter is beyond me...); Solaris is, of course, preloaded on all of these systems.

As I mentioned in a recent blog, I am currently looking for a 1U or 2U server to replace a pair of Ultra 1s. And I have to admit, I'm tempted--very tempted. About the only thing preventing me from making a decision right now is I want to see what the first Niagara-based servers brings us...

Friday, September 09, 2005

NIagara's many faces, err, cores

My recent blog about Sun's the upcoming Niagara gave a brief overview about this facinating chip. According to this story at El Reg, 8-core CPUs are not the only variation Sun is planning.

Recognising that 100% yields are not going to happen, Sun is planning to ship 6-core variants of Niagara as well as 8-core ones, the former will be at a lower price point than the latter (of course). A 4-core version is also being considered.

Apparently, systems based on Niagara will have only one CPU socket; I guess we'll have to wait for Rock-based systems for multi-socket CMP machines.

Systems called the Sun Fire T1000 and T2000 (1U and 2U respectively) will feature the Niagara CPUs. This nomenclature is similar to what I've seen for Sun's forthcoming Opteron-based "Galaxy" systems (aka Becky boxes, an allusion to designer and Sun co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim).

On a more personal note, I need to replace a pair of aging Ultra 1s with a 1U or 2U server. Looks like I'll have an embarresment of riches from which to chose!

Anti-M$ people will love this...

Here's a nice anti-M$ rant.

Richard Giles' Podcast interview with Bryan Cantrill

Prolific podcaster, Richard Giles, has published his interview with Bryan Cantrill (who was recently awarded with a Top 35 Innovators Award). Check it out.

Niagara: UltraSPARC's Viagra?

I like Sun's SPARC and UltraSPARC processors. There's something about them that feels inherently "right". But, let's be honest, their price/performance is lack-lustre to say the least. All right, it sucks. There, I've said it.

Their scalabilty is excellent, as the success of Sun's 100+ CPU SF25K behemoths illustrates. And that's important because sometimes, for certain workloads, straightline performance isn't everything. You wouldn't use a Formula 1 car in a rally, for example.

But many workloads are highly or even embaressingly parallel. For example, a web server. Each "hit" is potentially a different thread. Super fast CPUs like AMD's Opteron mask this by being really quick, in an inefficient manner. That is, they mask the fact that today's CPUs are *much* faster than the memory systems to which they're connected, and so even the fastest CPU spends a lot of time twiddling its electronic thumbs, waiting for memory (be it main RAM, or cache). The trouble is that while these fast CPUs are stalled, waiting for data or instructions to be fetched from memory, they're doing nothing. Well, nothing useful: they still eat up electricity. Today's multi-core chips (e.g., UltraSPARC-IV and the latest Opterons) suffer from the same problem, although the stalling is limited to each core (i.e., a stall in one core has no effect on the other).

While Intel was playing the GHz game, Sun's engineers recognised that a better way to faster performance--or more throughput--was to tackle the problem differently. Rather than endlessly ramping up the clock speed for smaller and smaller performance increases, they took a different approach: when the CPU stalls because it is waiting for memory, why not switch the CPU to a different thread? Sun's research concluded that a CPU spends about 75% of its time waiting for memory, so a CPU with four threads could conceivably be kept busy much more often: while three threads are waiting for memory, the fourth is running. (I guess an analogy would be the difference between using different processes and different threads. The former is more expensive to switch state (waiting for memory), while the latter is less.) To put it simply, a 4 GHz chip is busy only 25% of the time (the rest is spent waiting for memory), so it has an effective speed of 1 GHz.

The next logical step after having a single-core CPU that can run four threads is a multi-core CPU where each core has four threads. Enter Niagara, the code name for Sun's first implementation of its CMT (Chip Multi Threading) architecture. Niagara has eight cores, each of which runs four threads. Yep, 32 threads on a single CPU, 8 of which run simultaneously (one on each core).

As reported at El Reg, the first machines using Niagara--which will probably have a product name of "UltraSPARC-T1"--are already in Beta testing (no, alas, I don't have access to one). Here's what psrinfo says on these systems:

$ ./psrinfo -vp
The physical processor has 8 cores and 32 virtual processors
The core 0 has 4 virtual processors (0, 1, 2, 3)
The core 1 has 4 virtual processors (4, 5, 6, 7)
The core 2 has 4 virtual processors (8, 9, 10, 11)
The core 3 has 4 virtual processors (12, 13, 14, 15)
The core 4 has 4 virtual processors (16, 17, 18, 19)
The core 5 has 4 virtual processors (20, 21, 22, 23)
The core 6 has 4 virtual processors (24, 25, 26, 27)
The core 7 has 4 virtual processors (28, 29, 30, 31)
UltraSPARC-T1 (clock 1080 MHz)

So, we're looking at a ballpark clock speed of 1GHz. Doesn't sound very impressive, until you figure in the eight multi-threaded cores. In terms of throughput, these puppies are better than an 8 GHz CPU!

With all these threads (especially in multi-socket machines!), it's a good job that eats threads for lunch!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Inside Jack: Sun's best-ever marketing?

One of the best, if not *the* best, marketing ideas to come out of Sun is a series of cartoons called Inside Jack. It's funny, it appeals to geeks, it's irreverent; it's great! Noone and nothing is taboo: Scott, Jonathan, Larry Ellison, and even Intel's CEO are ruthlessly parodied, as are the competition's products (but, as Cupid Stunt would say, it's all done in the best possible taste). Scott McNealy making an announcement in Klingon--who'da thunk it?

Jack is a (presumably ficticious) Sun software engineer who spends his meetings with marketroids daydreaming more effective ways to market Sun's products. He's smart, he's witty, he writes code, and no, he won't fix your computer.

Kudos to whomever dreamed up Inside Jack, and had the balls to get it published. All I can say is well done, and bring on the FUD Fighters!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Ben and Jim show...

Check out Richard Giles' second I/O podcast, featuring my friends Jim Grisanzio and Ben Rockwood. Jim is the OpenSolaris project's Community Manager, and Ben is a community member who (like me) was on the OpenSolaris Pilot project.

Bryan Cantrill awarded

Bryan Cantrill, Senior kernel engineer, has been awarded Technology Review's Top 35 Innovators Award. Bryan is the guy (together with Adam Leventhal and Mike Shapiro) who brought DTrace to the world.

Congrats, Bryan; it's a honour well deserved.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Happy birthday Alberta--and goodbye Edmonton

Yesterday (September 1st) was Alberta's 100th birthday. I didn't see much of the celebrations, but I did manage to watch the firework display that took place at the Alberta Legistalure. That Thursday night was also my last night as a temporary resident of Edmonton (awfully nice of them to put on the fireworks for me, I thought!), as my contract at $TELCO was not renewed. (Some senior manager, who's main claim to infamy was power cycling a SF15K when he thought he was opening the cabinet, has decided that most contractors must go. I'll not argue with that policy, but I think his timing, with half the company out on strike, isn't that great. Oh well...)

Anyways, I thought I'd record some of best and worst memories of Edmonton. In no particluar order, the things I *won't* miss:

  • The noise. Despite being on the 15th floor, the noise from outside was almost unberable at night. Definately a stark contrast to the peace and quiet I get in my house in Kelowna, up on a moutainside overlooking Glenmore valley.
  • The smokers. I can't believe the number of people who smoke (both in absolute terms, and as a ratio) in Edmonton; they're everywhere! The worst thing is when bunches of smokers cluster around the entrace to a building: us non-smokers have to walk through a smoke haze to get to work.
  • Being away from my home and family. This was the hardest, and IMHO, most unnecessary, part. There's no technical reason why I couldn't have worked from Kelowna (even my own home), as 99% of what my team did was remote anyway. Two blocks or 1000km, it's all the same. Alas, the "innovation" in the company's values doesn't stretch as far as allowing its employees and contractors to work from home on a regular basis. Again, this is not a technical problem, it's a cultural one...
  • Walking 10 blocks to the nearest grocery store! Oh well, it gave me some exercise.
  • The concrete--it's everywhere!
  • The short summer.
  • The cold!

And to end on a more positive note, here are some things that I *will* miss:

  • My favourite restaurant, The Wok Box. If you like oriental food, you owe it to yourself to give this place a try. They're near the corner of 102nd Street and Japser Avenue (opposite Commerce Place), and their "Spicy Singapore Cashew" is to die for! My 2nd favourite restaurant, Chicken for Lunch, is also great (especially on Fridays), but get there early: the queue gets pretty long! And fellow chocoholics would be remiss to visit Edmonton and not go to the all-you-can-eat chocolate buffet, at the Sutton Place Hotel every Thursday and Friday night!
  • The friends and collegues I made and met over the past 7 months, including (but not limited too; apols if I missed anyone!) Jim, Steven, Dave, Eappan, Jimi, Mike, Ian, Terri, Marg, Jay, and Francois. We shared many a good time...
  • The cash. I enjoyed being able to go to Futureshop et al, and actually afford to buy something (mostly DVDs). OK, that's not specific to Edmonton per se, but I still miss it!
  • The neat architecture: the pyrmaid-shaped city hall, the Muttart Conservatory, and Manulife Place (the nicest looking building in Edmonton, IMHO), and so on. (Mind you, Edmonton has more than its fair share of ugly buildings too...)

Well, that's about it for this list. But I must thank the anonymous person who's insecure Wifi connection enabled me to get onto the 'Net in my rented apartment: thank you!

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Latest draft of the OpenSolaris Charter now available

If you have an interest in and would like to participate in the discussion around its charter, now is the time to do so. Fellow CABber Al Hopper recently posted the latest draft of the OpenSolaris Charter, and we are seeking *your* feedback.

Once the Charter is ratified, we still have the Governance Model and Joint Development Process to complete, so we still have a lot of work to do!