Sun To Use Intel Chips In Servers

Slide Show: Intel, Sun Announce Broad Partnership

The two computer giants on Monday unveiled a broad alliance that marries Sun's Solaris Unix operating system with Intel's Xeon processors. Under the pact, Intel will endorse Solaris as a mainstream OS and Unix platform of choice plus distribute OEM copies of Solaris. In exchange, Sun will develop and sell Xeon servers and optimize Solaris for Xeon and Intel's upcoming 45-nanometer multicore processors, which will run multiple OSes on a single piece of silicon.

The Sun-Intel alliance follows similar truces between industry rivals, including Microsoft and Sun, Microsoft and Novell, and Intel and Apple.

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Sun pledges to ship dual-core Intel Xeon systems optimized for Solaris by the end of the first half. Later on, though no timetable was given, Sun plans to ship multi-way Xeon systems, including an eight-way server -- a high end server that would compete well against Sun's own UltraSparc Unix servers.

The Sun-Intel pact will likely expand opportunities for Sun VAR partners that have been limited to UltraSPARC and AMD Opteron architectures, as well as would give Intel partners another OS option -- in addition to Windows and Linux -- to preload on industry-standard servers, Sun and Intel executives said.

In a Webcast on Monday, Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz said the Sun-Intel pairing may appear strange after decades of intense competition, but he insisted that both companies are committed to ending the era of negative rhetoric that once divided the Unix and Intel worlds.

"We want Solaris to scream on Xeon and blow everyone in the marketplace away," Schwartz said. "Intel and Sun getting together around the promotion of Solaris changes the game in the marketplace."

Sun and Intel plan to collaborate on engineering, and Intel promises to offer support for Sun's Open Solaris, Java efforts and NetBeans IDE. Sun has provided a version of Solaris for Intel architecture for more than a decade (and once even pulled the plug on that version when Intel announced its 64-bit processor plans) but has been increasing its support for x32 and x64 systems as Linux appeared on the scene and took a big bite of its market share.

Sun announced a pact with Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices in 2003 and began shipping Opteron systems soon thereafter. Schwartz said Sun's partnership with AMD is intact but added that teaming with Intel is necessary for Sun to reach a broader market.

The deal with Intel also underscores a significant shift in the marketplace, from a focus on OSes and servers to service-oriented architectures and the virtualized data center, Sun and Intel executives said.

Virtualization enables multiple OSes and workloads to run on a single server and be moved from one server to another in a data center, based on a company's on-demand processing needs.

For Intel, the deal with Sun assures that it can support and sell Windows, Linux and Unix on its upcoming multicore processors that offer I/O vitualization and are optimized for OS kernel virtualization.

"The ability to run multiple operating systems on a single microprocessor that began on the mainframe is now coming down to volume servers," Intel CEO Paul Otellini said. Intel currently has four OSes running on a single chip in the labs, he said.

Otellini and Schwartz said they will continue to develop their respective 64-bit Itanium and UltraSparc Unix servers but won't engage in any more "religious wars."

The pact also signifies Sun's effort to regain market momentum by pushing four separate business lines -- systems, software, services and storage -- independent of one another, especially Solaris on industry-standard architectures.

Schwartz said more than 7 million of copies of Solaris have been downloaded since Sun launched its Open Solaris program in 2005, and seven out of 10 of those downloads have been loaded on Intel- or AMD-based systems.

Solaris Unix is far from dead, Schwartz noted. "The issue [of Solaris' survival] is off the table. We clearly have volume, and we can work with Intel to amplify that volume," he said.

Doug Nassaur, president and CEO of True North technology, a Sun partner in Duluth, Ga., said the Sun-Intel alliance should boost the market presence of Solaris.

"It's a better idea [for Sun] to hit the majority of the market than to do something exclusive that misses it. They are in fourth place, so teaming up with the No. 1 [chip maker] can't be bad," Nassaur said. "We use Solaris x86 with great success. Anything that assures commitment to that platform I will view as positive."