Sun and Intel to push 8-way servers and Solaris

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Sun and Intel to push 8-way servers and Solaris

Sun flip-flops back to Intel Xeon servers.

Intel and Sun Microsystems have unveiled a partnership in which Sun will build servers based on Intel's Xeon processor by June. The pair will also collaborate on Sun's Solaris operating system.

Although Solaris is currently certified for Intel processors, the chip giant will dedicate developers to help Sun fine-tune the software for advanced features on its processors such as hardware support for virtualisation, storage and I/O.

Intel makes its chip features available to developers as open standards, but Intel's help is expected to allow Sun to better support the features in its software.

"Solaris is evolving as a mainstream operating system, and is also mainstream in the equipment on which it ships," Intel chief executive Paul Otellini said at a press conference.

"We now have the opportunity to have Intel inside many of those boxes. [Solaris] is becoming the mission critical Unix for Xeon."

Otellini expects the partnership to help Intel gain traction in the financial and telecoms markets where Sun has traditional strongholds, but where Intel is relatively weak.

AMD has been Sun's exclusive supplier of x86 processors for the past two years since Sun abandoned its ailing Intel server business.

The decision to let Intel back in was driven by customer demand for a more diverse product line, according to Sun chief executive Jonathan Schwartz.

"We cannot be just about our own intellectual property," he said, claiming that 70 per cent of Solaris 10 installations run on Intel-powered servers, while customers use its hardware to run Windows, Linux or Solaris.

"There is only one person in the world who buys only from Sun, and that's our chief information officer. We don't expect you to follow him," added Schwartz.

Sun is expected to start shipping a dual-processor Intel system before June that will mimic its AMD model.

Most servers sold today are dual-processor systems, and having both Intel and AMD models allows Sun to better compete in this segment. But the company does not plan to equip all its current AMD models with Xeon processors.

Intel also expects that the Sun partnership will further advance the creation of so-called eight-way servers, where a single system houses eight physical processors.

Putting more chips in a single server enables the creation of systems that pack more compute power per square inch.

This allows industry standard Xeon servers to further close in on mainframe systems, a market traditionally dominated by IBM.

Sun unveiled the industry's first eight-way AMD Opteron server from a major server vendor last year.  

Although four-way and eight-way Xeon systems are available for multiple vendors including HP and IBM, the multiprocessor market has largely failed to take off.

"Intel gains an effective partner in creating powerful four- and eight-way systems that integrate very effectively into the core architectural strategy of large customers that want more processing power. All of those customers are trying to move to virtualised environments," Mervyn Adrian, a senior vice president at Forrester Research, told 

Adrian described the partnership as a win-win situation for both parties, predicting that it will help Sun gain added visibility with customers and help it to better compete against rival server vendors such HP, Dell and IBM.
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