Sun Sparcstations beat DEC MIPStations, all others in London University benchmarks After carrying out an evaluation of workstation and server architecture, London’s Interdisciplinary Research Centre has opted for a Sun Microsystems-based computing strategy, and is spending an initial UKP500,000 out of a UKP1.3m grant covering the purchase of computer systems over the next five years. […]
Sun Sparcstations beat DEC MIPStations, all others in London University benchmarks After carrying out an evaluation of workstation and server architecture, London’s Interdisciplinary Research Centre has opted for a Sun Microsystems-based computing strategy, and is spending an initial UKP500,000 out of a UKP1.3m grant covering the purchase of computer systems over the next five years. The Centre is made up of various departments from the Imperial College of Technology, with other input from University College London. Apollo Computre, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Sun and DEC systems were all initially considered in the evaluation, but the final decision became a straight choice between the Sun Sparcstation 1 and the DECstatiuon 3100, one each of which were installed for a test period. The two are similarly configured with 8Mb of memory, but there are a number of differences between them. Although the Sun machine is theoretically 10% to 15% slower than the DEC, it is roughly 10% to 20% cheaper according to the list price, it has an audio channel and can take a small 3.5 floppy drive which can read and write IBM PS/2 floppies. The Centre found the Sparcstation to be slightly more expandable than the DEC mach ine, having three slots for add-in cards those currently available being a graphic acc elerator, second Ethernet controller and four serial lines. As well as looking at the two company’s own performance figures for the mach ines, the Centre also conducted its own bench marks running execution, compilation and prob lem solving tests on the two systems, and its own MicroVAX II, running VMS with 5Mb memory.
Using a two stage execution benchmark, the first part being a long tree-traversing integer calculation, the second, the solving of the associated linear program:
System Results (sec) x MicroVAX II Sparcstation 1 39 15.1 DECstation 3100 39 15.1 MicroVAX II VMS 589 1.0
This benchmark measured compiling and linking the associated source files for the above program – 5,337 lines of code: for each workstation one run was made at the default optimisation level, and one at the highest:
System Results (sec) x MicroVAX II Sparcstation 1 highest 186 1.0 Sparcstation 1 default 70 2.7 DECstation 3100 highest 170 1.1 DECstation 3100 default 43 4.3 MicroVAX II VMS 187 1.0
This benchmark consisted of a large finite-element solver, and the program was run twice with two different ways of calculating derivatives – the VAXStation 2000 is deemed to be equivalent to a MicroVAX II:
System Results (sec) x MicroVAX II Sparcstation 1 30.7 11.9 DECstation 3100 21.1 17.3 IBM RT (F77) 154.0 2.4 VAXstation 2000 VMS 365.0 1.0
System Results (sec) x MicroVAX II Sparcstation 1 9.5 9.4 DECstation 3100 7.4 12.0 IBM RT (F77) 37.0 2.4 VAXstation 2000 VMS 89.0 1.0
Based upon these and other findings, the Centre is buying 29 Sun Sparcstations, two Sun-4/390 servers, one DECserver, seven DECstations, a MicroVAX 3400, some MS-DOS machines, Apple Macintoshes and other peripherals and software. Approval for the acquisitions took 18 months, but the delay meant that the workstations finally purchased are actually four to five times more powerful than those originally applied for by the Centre as a result of advances in workstation technology. Existing DEC systems and a Sun-3 network are to be sold – the Centre regards the support of both Sun-3 and Sun-4 systems as too problematic. Phase two, and the rest of the spending, will take place over the next couple of years. Sun has also won another academic deal – with Southampton University’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, which has opted to buy 14 Sparcstation 1s and a Sparcserver 4/390 for UKP147,000.
Hiatus as Sun gets finances back on even keel could see management changes With the prospect of a first ever quarterly loss on a fall in sales, austerity rules at Sun Microsystems Inc, which to avoid lay-offs is cutting back on travel, phone calls and client entertainment, and a delay in completion of the new assembly plant in Linlithgow, Scotland. And last week the company’s recent troubles were highl
ighted in a New York Times article, quoting the widely held belief that Sun needs a strengthened management structure in place before it embarks on its next round of growth. Trouble first surfaced for Sun following the launch of the SparcStation 1 and four other major systems launches back in April – too early according to many analysts and observers, including Bernie Lacroute, executive vice president of products and technology at Sun, who is rumoured to have left following a row with founder and chief executive Scott McNealy over the launch. Much of the blame for the lower earnings, which will be reported next month, was put down to the problems of upgrading Sun’s internal data processing system – ironically running on hardware from rival Hewlett-Packard, which has just leapfrogged Sun’s number one position in the workstation market through its acquisition of Apollo Computer Inc. But according to the New York Times, the crisis will acccelerate the company’s transition from adolescent seat of the pants style management towards a more structured and disciplined adult management style. McNealy, quoted in the article, refuted comparisons to Apple’s Steve Jobs and John Sculley, and pointed to DEC, Wang and Hewlett-Packard as examples of companies that made it big with their original founders still in place at the top. But with a strong new product line now in place, many see such changes as an inevitable result of Sun’s explosive growth, expected to continue after two to three quarters of recovery.