Intel to promote Solaris, Sun to build Intel servers

Posted by Wolfgang Gruener

San Francisco (CA) - Intel and Sun today broke down what have been solid barriers in the past and announced a far-reaching collaboration in which Intel will encourage its customers to implement Solaris as their Unix software. In turn, Sun will offer a "complete" line of Xeon-processor based 1P, 2P, 4P and down the road also 8P servers.

Until recently, it was virtually impossible to mention Sun and Intel in one sentence. However, the dramatic rhetoric of the past flowing in both directions appeared to have soften with the promotion of Jonathan Schwartz to chief executive officer of Sun. Actually, during today's announcement, Schwartz said that one of his first phone calls as CEO was to Intel's Paul Otellini, inquiring about possibilities of collaboration.

While it may be surprising that Sun was moving towards Intel, given the firm's close connection with AMD, Schwartz had a good reason to call Otellini. According to Sun, 70% of Solaris installations on x86 systems run on Intel systems, not on AMD. Ignoring Intel meant ignoring 70% of its market. "That was a great motivation to work together," Schwartz said. Of course, the fact that Sun was able to convince Intel to market Solaris may have save the operating system's life: Seven million installations are considerable but the future of the software was uncertain: "There was the question if Solaris would suffer the same fate of other UNIXes," Schwartz said. "Now that issue is off the table."

For Intel, the agreement means that the company can work with a company that has found a new way of growing its server and workstation shipments, and has done so with AMD systems only. The fact that Sun is the fourth largest server manufacturer worldwide and that the company has gained credibility in the x86 market means that Intel can go after a substantial installed base of Sun AMD systems, even if AMD may retain unique selling points such as more consistent and easily upgradeable platforms.

Sun did not provide detail which Xeon processors the company would offer, but mentioned that systems "based on customer demand" would be offered starting towards the end of the first half of 2007. The company said will offer 1P, 2P, 4P and - later on - also 8P systems with Intel processors.

The open question that was not answered during the announcement was what Intel was able to bring to the table that AMD could not. However, besides developer resources and market penetration, the company indicated in a press release that Intel's technology may have played a role.

"Sun is committed to leading on performance and energy efficiency in its server product line. After a comprehensive evaluation of industry platform solutions, Sun has decided to complement its current offerings with platforms based on Intel Architecture optimized for Solaris beginning in the first half of 2007. Sun believes Intel's model of alternating new microarchitectures with new process technologies on an annual basis will offer outstanding building blocks for Sun's customers. "

Sun representatives were not available to provide more detail on this quote.

Industry analysts such as Dean McCarron from mercury Research, meanwhile mentioned that the cooperation between Intel and Sun "wasn't made for any one reason." Instead, Sun possibly saw a number of benefits from working together with what has been one of its worst enemies. Among the more significant reasons, the analyst believes that "similar to what Dell has done with AMD last year, Sun is now in a better position to negotiate better prices with AMD." McCarron mentioned that Sun's competitors in the x86 market, foremost Dell and HP are already offering AMD and Intel CPUs across the board - and Intel's quad-core Clovertown processors. Offering Intel processors will allow Sun to catch up with its rivals in the x86 market and maintain its accelerating pace.