Sparc64 doesn't care about you, and you shouldn't care about Sparc64

Brian McGovern (bmcgover) bmcgover at
Wed Nov 11 16:07:43 UTC 2015

I have to step in on Jordan's side on this one. As a recently-former lab admin (June), we were - and I assume continue to - chucking Sun Sparc hardware as fast as we can EOL the products which run on the platform, and to the best of my knowledge, we haven't bought new gear since Oracle bought Sun. I think I still have an SB150 sitting in a closet collecting dust for the emergency case which is predestined to emergency at some point, but we're not even considering giving the boxes another life as second tier hardware - the x86/64 space offers far superior metrics in terms of price/performance/support/replacement parts.

This, of course, means that our customers will be eventually follow suit as they do their next round of upgrades. While this means there will be a ton of Sparc64 hardware around at low prices, I have no doubt it'll be a niche community, like BETAMAX, Laserdisc, and HD-DVD before...

If there is someone who loves this platform enough to keep it going single-handedly, or nearly so, that's one thing. If the discussion is to divert project resources to keep it alive just because its one more platform, I have a laundry list of things that I suspect will have a bigger impact on the broader x86 (and even ARM) community; then again, I expect just about everyone has such a list.

From: owner-freebsd-sparc64 at <owner-freebsd-sparc64 at> on behalf of Jordan Hubbard <jkh at>
Sent: Wednesday, November 11, 2015 1:55:38 AM
To: Warner Losh
Cc: Marius Strobl; Anna Wilcox; sparc64 at; Sean Bruno; freebsd-arch
Subject: Re: Sparc64 doesn't care about you, and you shouldn't care about Sparc64

> On Nov 10, 2015, at 9:54 PM, Warner Losh <imp at> wrote:
> sparc64 is the odd-man out currently. However, even if clang doesn't
> work, the gcc external toolchain works well for other platforms. If it makes
> sprac64 more viable, then so much the better.

Hi Warner,

I hate to be a voice of pragmatism here when we’re having so much fun discussing it from an architectural perspective, but…

What’s the actual goal (from a future market relevance perspective) of putting resources, any resources, into sparc64?  I think that’s the key question that needs to get asked and answered here since we all know that:

1) FreeBSD is not NetBSD - it has never historically supported “x86 alternative architectures” just because they existed and might be technically interesting to port to, there had to be some sort of user community numbers to justify the time and energy expended for the project as a whole (and even in an all-volunteer driven project, there is simply no such thing as “free” - everything has a cost somewhere).

As phk noted earlier in the thread, the ALPHA port was an exception to this rule simply because it was the first-ever 64 bit port for FreeBSD and we knew it would buy us some much-needed 64 bit cleanliness, but it also fell off the support roadmap and into the history books once ALPHA’s market relevance had clearly ended.

NetBSD/alpha still exists, all the way up to and including NetBSD 7.0, because their slogan is “Of course it runs NetBSD.”   Again, FreeBSD != NetBSD.  The emphasis on market share is and always has been a key differentiator for FreeBSD and part of both its own slogans and mission statement.

2) Sparc64 global market share has declined significantly since Oracle purchased Sun, leaving Oracle and Fujitsu as the only two significant players in that market.  Sure, putting “old equipment to work” is also always a tempting objective, but it’s one that really requires viewing through an objective lens since the perspective of someone who owns said "old equipment" is rather more biased than the perspective of the market as a whole.  The market as a whole appears to consist (in terms of global server market share):

HP (x64)                        27.6%
IBM     (x64)           22.9%
DELL (x64)              16.4%
All others (x64):       24% (combined estimate, including Cisco and Huawei)
Total:                  90.9%

[ Source: Gartner ]

That leaves 9.1% for the rest of the server industry, which includes Itanium, POWER4 and SPARC64.   We can also probably safely assume that even amongst that tiny 9% pie slice, vendors are focused on the future since their overall market share is declining (about 5% annually), which begs the question:  Is FreeBSD/SPARC64 aiming at the T5, even while Oracle themselves are shifting emphasis to lower-cost x64 systems for which FreeBSD is already competitive, or is it really just trying to keep some older collection of increasingly power/performance inefficient (by comparison) alive?

Again, what’s the long-term goal of supporting this architecture?  The old adage about “picking your battles” applies here, no matter how enthusiastic the small community of remaining SPARC users might be, which is why I am risking lightning bolts of wrath from SPARC zealots in even daring to ask the question. :-)


- Jordan

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