% fortune -ae paul murphy

Good news for Sun

As regular readers know I'm quite sure the human causation hypothesis on climate change is total bunk, am politically in love with Sarah Palin, and generally repulsed by people and policies likely to get endorsed by The Economist or the New York Times.

In that context, therefore, you can imagine that I find the nominal outcome of the recent American election extremely depressing - but not everything is gloom and doom: my favorite hardware company stands to win big from the political insanity - and the reason is its dominance on SWaP - the Space, Watts, and Power metric.

To see what I mean, consider this bit from a far left news site heralding the coming president under the title "Analysts Call Obama Election a Win for Greentech"

A number of greentech industry insiders are cheering the election of Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama as the next U.S. president.

"It's obviously outstanding news for the clean-energy sector," said Ethan Zindler, head of North American research for New Energy Finance. "An Obama win, coupled with pickups in the House and Senate for Democrats, is really good news."


Ron Pernick, a principal for Clean Edge, called Tuesday's election of Obama "a critical election for clean technology and the broader greentech movement."

"I think that in many ways, it was a referendum between two different possible futures," he said. "It was very clear that although there were some things that McCain supported that may have been beneficial to clean energy, it was much more of a 'drill baby drill' approach, with 45 nuclear power plants and a disparagement of conservation.

"If you look at Obama's energy policies, it's very much a checklist of what many in the cleantech movement would be asking."

Among other green initiatives, Obama has proposed a carbon cap-and-trade program, which could limit carbon emissions and set up an auction to enable heavier polluters to buy credits from cleaner companies, pledged $15 billion annually for clean energy and called for a national renewable-energy standard that would require the country to get 10 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2012 (see Presidential Picks Cast Solar Ballots).

He also plans to extend federal renewable-energy production credits for five years, to boost the renewable-fuel standard to require the country to use 60 billion gallons of biofuel from nonfood materials by 2030, up from a current requirement of 21 billion gallons by 2022, and to raise fuel-economy standards for vehicles by 4 percent each year (see Ethanol, Farm Industries Split on Candidates and How U.S. Prez Candidates Could Drive Change).

Robert Wilder, CEO of Wildershares, which manages three energy indices, said he was "pretty excited" about the outcome of the election.

It's not obvious how any of this is actually going to turn out - but it is obvious that the more politically correct the actual policies implemented turn out to be, the bigger the win for Sun's coolthreads and Sun Ray product lines.

The reasons for that start with power consumption, because the CMT/SMP machines easily beat everything else on the SWaP metric - and thus have a competitive advantage that increases with energy costs.

To get some feeling for how big the advantage is, check the swap ratings linked to above, or simply consider that a test comparing MySQL/Apache on SPARC at 1.4Ghz, to an all Microsoft stack on a 16 core Xeon found the T2 to be 3.2 times faster than the HP DL580 while using 73% less power.

That result is about average for situations in which the entire wintel stack is replaced - but consider this example from the opposite end of the spectrum: one in which string searching software developed for DNA research on Cell was drop kicked onto both the T2 and Xeon architectures and then used to comapre the two:

A 4-chip Sun SPARC Enterprise T5440 performed string searching 3.3 times faster than the 4-chip HP DL-580 (2.93 GHz Xeon Quad core) that performed string searching at a rate of 3.87 GB/s. On other tests we have measured the power consumption of the HP DL-580 (2.93 GHz Xeon QC) to be 830 watts. Using this value for the power consumption of the HP DL-580, Sun estimates the Sun SPARC Enterprise T5440 to have a 1.8 times advantage in delivered power-performance.

Of course, this doesn't amount to that much in real terms: replacing a bunch of Xeons with CMT/SPARC gear just saves a few thousand watts per hour and if the U.S. were adding electrical generation capacity the cost for those watts just wouldn't matter much, but the plan is restrict production while increasing demand - and that's a recipe for dramatic price escalation.

And as the price of power goes up, those few thousand watts per hour per rack are suddenly going to add up to real money - while comparisons between the 4 watt Sun Ray and the typical 110+ watt desktop are just as suddenly going to make a lot more sense to a lot more people.

To put the bottom line for Sun in terms of an analogy to the car business: with IBM and the x86 community busily hanging v8s on mopeds, increases in power costs are set to make Sun's CMT/SPARC products look like diesel powered inter-city buses with the maneuverability and parking characteristics of sports cars - and, for Sun, that can only be a good thing.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.