Intel and Solaris: Where does AMD fit in?

Intel Canada GM Doug Cooper says the company has not spent any time with Sun Microsystem’s Solaris operating system. But he believes Intel’s endorsement of Solaris this week will enable the microchip company to put more activity around the OS with up-to-date drivers and fine-tuning.

The Sun announcement came almost a year after the historic deal with Apple to put Intel processors on Macs. Coupled with the open source community embracing Intel, Cooper said, “it speaks volumes on how good a job our engineers did on the core architecture.

“We are not asking anyone to change their stripes,” Cooper said about Microsoft and Windows. “This is another choice and that is the promise we hope to deliver a really great port running Intel Xeon processors.”

Sun president and CEO Jonathan Schwartz said the partnership represents a huge boost for Solaris, which he said once faced the same fate as Unix as an operating system on the decline.

“What was potentially in question two or three years ago — what will happen to Solaris — that is no longer in question,” he said, acknowledging that Intel has not always been Sun’s biggest ally. “I think we’ve had a bit of an ebb and flow in our relationship. We’ve only been detecting flow in the last six months and we want to continue on that.”

Sun’s maneuvering Solaris into the position of operating system of choice for Intel’s Xeon chips is a real coup, said Schwartz, since Windows and Linux are the more common operating systems for the x86 chips used in servers.

Although it builds its own UltraSparc microprocessors for data centre servers, Schwartz said the Intel partnership would not hurt that area of its business.

“Every business we build at Sun is independent of the others. They are related to one another, but they have to remain separate,” he said. “If all we do is build software for our own processor or our own systems, we lose the bulk of the market . . . By definition we are a minority of the market, and we are looking forward to going after as large a market as possible.”

Microprocessor analyst Nathan Brookwood, who runs IT industry research company Insight 64, said that this kind of diversification is both a very savvy move on Sun’s part, and a continuation of the strategy it’s been using recently. “Over the last two to three years, they’ve continued to expand their range of customers. Three years ago, they had Sparc systems, and then they had the x86’s from Intel, and then from AMD,” he said.

Brookwood sees Sun evolving with the market and away from the exclusivity of other arrangements, like Dell’s recent Intel-only servers and the preponderance of AMD chips that Sun itself formerly offered, that prompt “a litany from potential customers about what (chips) are better.”

Said Brookwood: “Now they can give customers what they ask for. It’s good for Sun and Intel, and it’s even good for AMD, in a weird way, because if Sun’s better (and attracting more customers), they do have the lion’s share of Sun’s chips.”

Companies very seldom need help choosing which chip it wants to go with, according to Brookwood. “But as soon as (Sun) has both, they can give one or the other, in what AMD calls ‘chipnosticism.”

Cooper added that he did not expect this sort of deal to materialize. He has been working with Sun off and on over the past few years. He said that the deal could offer a new range of server solutions, and with that a potential boost to channel sales.

“Sun has a robust channel strategy and now they have Intel as an alternative to that package,” Cooper said.

This deal is strictly for Xeon processors, however, and Cooper did not want to speculate if Itanium CPUs would be included in the future.

Intel has struggled for years to promote a high-end processor to compete with IBM’s Power processor as well as UltraSparc.

— With reporting from Paolo Del Nibletto


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