Will court tier-two vendors and white box builders
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Scott McNealy opened his Comdex keynote presentation with the news that Sun Microsystems is partnering with AMD to develop 64-bit servers based on AMD's Opteron processor and running under Solaris and Linux, a move that was widely expected.
McNealy, Sun's president, chairman, and CEO, brought Hector Ruiz, president and CEO of AMD, on-stage to unveil plans for the two vendors to develop servers aimed at easing customer transition from 32-bit computing to 64-bit computing while maintaining backward compatibility with legacy 32-bit applications, something they said is not possible when moving to Intel's Itanium platform.
McNealy said that, as a result of the alliance, customers now have three operating system options for the Opteron processor: Windows, Linux, and Solaris. "Solaris is 64-bit ready," he said. "Our engineers are excited about the performance, the multipath threading, the scalability."
While McNealy and Ruiz touted the advantages of their new alliance to customers, others in the industry said that their marriage may be as much of an alliance against Intel, which makes the Itanium 2 processors that compete with both Opteron and Sun's SPARC processors.
Lisa Graff, Intel's director of worldwide ramp for the Itanium 2, said in an interview prior to Comdex that of all enterprise installations of Itanium 2-based servers that have been tracked, about 35 percent are replacing Sun servers.
"That makes it, what, two boxes?" said Shouheil Saliba, vice president of Sun's volume systems products marketing and strategy, in response to Intel's claims. "Intel is trying to make a lot of noise about the Itanium."
By working with AMD, Sun has an opportunity to gain traction against Itanium for a number of reasons, said Saliba, who talked with CRN after the keynote. "A key reason is that customers require a fork-lift upgrade to Itanium," he said. "It is difficult for customers to adopt that architecture. Solaris and Opteron allow a seamless upgrade from 32-bit to 64-bit computing. They aren't all looking to move to 64-bit today. But they are looking at when they are ready for 64-bit, will the move be seamless."
Neither McNealy nor Saliba would discuss speeds or feeds of the new server. Hardware and software developer kits are available in limited quantities this week, and will be rolled out to more developers in the future, said Saliba. Roll-out of the servers will start in the first half of next year, he said.
Marty Seyer, vice president and general manager of AMD's Microprocessor Business Unit, said that the Opteron processor can scale to eight-way servers, and so Sun will have expansion capability going forward. "Obviously, they are starting in the sweet spot of the server space," he said.
While Monday's presentations focused on the alliance between Sun and AMD, Saliba said that the technology resulting from the alliance is not limited to the two vendors. "If Dell called, we would love to license Solaris to them on the Opteron platform," he said.
Sun is also interested in working with tier-two and white box server vendors on integrating Solaris, and Sun's Java Enterprise System (JES) and Java Desktop System (JDS), onto their Opteron servers as well, said Saliba.
"The (Solaris/Opteron) ecosystem is a critical one for us," he said. "We want to take advantage of it to build volume system products. To leverage it, we have to help AMD develop a similar ecosystem."
David Chang, CEO of Agama Systems, a Houston-based system builder who has been a partner of both AMD and Intel, said he did not believe AMD's alliance with Sun would provide conflict with the system builder channel. To the contrary, he thought it would be good for everyone.
"You raise the recognition for AMD," said Chang. That, in turn, would put further pressure on Intel to stay competitive in the channel as AMD is viewed by more as a viable alternative.
"It means AMD is on par with Intel," Chang said.
In an IT world where vendors have been pressed to keep costs down, Chang said he believed Sun turned to AMD as a way to provide lower-cost solutions that might stem any inroads Intel has been able to make among Sun's customers.
"Scott is probably adopting the same (lower cost) strategy," Chang said. "But for him to lower cost, he can't do it by himself. He needs help. He needs AMD."
Chang said he sees "no conflict by AMD with their channel. I see this as good for everybody, because it creates an alternative to Intel that is an easier sell."