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

Elizabeth Myers elizabeth at
Sat Nov 14 11:14:24 UTC 2015

On 11/11/15 10:07, Brian McGovern (bmcgover) wrote:
> 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.

That doesn't mean there isn't a market for it. You might not see the
value, but others clearly do. There are plenty of SPARC machines still
in production worldwide. Sticking your head in the sand won't make them
go away. Comparing SPARC collectors to people who collect BETAMAX is not
only rude, it's also wrong.

> 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...

I am sure the PowerPC users of FreeBSD would really /love/ to hear your
ideas about niche communities in FreeBSD. PowerPC is these days
primarily the domain of collectors, especially the big-endian stuff (IBM
seems to be pushing little-endian furiously).

> 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.

This seems like you're handwaving the problem away with some nebulous
definition of "project resources." If someone or some people want to
maintain it, and continue using it, that is their business. If that
constitutes "project resources," then I suppose you are instructing
people, "go spend your time doing something more productive?"

I am pretty sure it is their choice to spend time on whatever they
please. But that's just me.

On 11/11/15 00:55, Jordan Hubbard wrote:
> 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…

Whilst you're having so much fun criticising people for their choice in

> 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:

As I said above, go ask the PowerPC people this. I am sure they would
dismiss you as a bad troll.

> 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).

You are seriously going to use "we're not NetBSD" as an argument? OK,
then FreeBSD should only support x86, just like it used to, because
"this isn't NetBSD" and it is the dominant architecture in the server,
laptop, and desktop world. FreeBSD is obviously a populist operating
system and should only work on the latest greatest hardware also. /s

> 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.

ALPHA hardware was expensive (three figures), bulky, and not something
very many people had lying around. This is all still true. There are
plenty of SPARC's in the wild - and I am willing to bet there are more
working SPARCs than working ALPHA machines.

> 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.

Linux has far more users than NetBSD and supports things FreeBSD would
never even dream of supporting. Linux is oriented at the masses (just
about anything with users). Are you proposing that Linux should remove
support for marginal architectures too just because "they're not popular
and there's only a few maintainers?"

> 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 ]

There are still TOP500 supercomputers that run SPARC.
- the share has even grown slightly. I am sure there are still dozens of
deployments of SPARC out there that nobody is revealing numbers on.

Also, PowerPC probably has less than a few percent of total desktop and
laptop users - go ahead, propose removing support for those too I
suppose? /s

> 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?

Itanium is practically dead. I would wager SPARC64 and POWER have about
the same marketshare. If people still want to support the architecture,
then I think the overall marketshare is frankly inconsequential to the

> 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. :-)

Well you seem keen to pick this battle. If this architecture is so
insignificant, then why chime in with all these numbers and arguments
about how FreeBSD isn't NetBSD? Either you have a chip on your shoulder,
something to prove, or just don't care about the minority as it somehow
offends you.

And yes, I have a giant chip on my shoulder too. I don't like it when
people decide to steamroller because something isn't their favourite
thing or "I don't use it at my job and I'm not paid to touch it so screw
the people who use this." It's a crappy attitude to have, although it's
extremely common. How about you just leave the happy minority alone? :)


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