Sun Outlines Plan to Offer Opteron-based Servers

Says first models due early next year

Sun Microsystems Inc. last week outlined plans to begin offering x86 servers running Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s 64-bit Opteron processor, a move that may help put the chip on more radar screens in the coming year.

That will certainly be the case for Shane Brauner, systems administrator at the University of Houston's High Performance Computing Center, who said he's very interested in Opteron but believes application and compiler support from vendors "isn't really that great right now." For that reason, the center recently opted for systems running Intel Corp.'s 32-bit Xeon chips rather than Opteron, he said.

But Brauner said he believes that by the time Sun releases its first Opteron-based servers early next year, application support will have improved. He says the Opteron is an attractive alternative to 32-bit chips and Sun's more expensive Sparc RISC processors because of its ability to run both 64- and 32-bit applications written for Intel systems.

Sun announced at the Comdex trade show in Las Vegas last week that it had entered into a broad agreement with Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AMD to conduct joint sales and collaborate to optimize Solaris, Java and development tools for the AMD chip. The companies said they plan to work with third-party application vendors on Opteron support.

"It's a broad and deep relationship," said Neil Knox, Sun's executive vice president of volume systems products. Sun officials said that the decision to offer Opteron wouldn't affect the company's investment in its Sparc processors and that Sun is committed to Sparc's ongoing improvement.

Sun forecasted the move last month when it said it would port Solaris to Opteron . It will also offer Linux on Opteron-based systems.

For Sun, which has seen flat revenue in recent quarters, offering Opteron-based Linux servers will help it participate in what is "a very vibrant sector of the server market," said Jean Bozman, an analyst at market research firm IDC.

IBM in August began offering Opteron-based systems but is focusing strictly on high-performance technical computing users, who are typically the early adopters of new technologies.

And that's currently where the demand is. One of AMD's largest Opteron users is Los Alamos National Laboratory, which announced in August that it had selected Opteron for two Linux clusters, one with 2,800 processors . Sun's plan is to extend Opteron to the mainstream computing market.

Sun said its Opteron pricing and server configuration plans aren't yet available.

Hewlett-Packard Co., which co-developed the 64-bit Itanium chip with Intel, has no plans to offer Opteron.

Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata Inc. analyst Gordon Haff said he believes that Sun's move gives it a strong x86 offering in the small-to-midrange server market without hurting its high-end Sparc business. "They are committed to their high-end system," said Haff. "I don't see any reason to believe that Sun would move away from Sparc anytime soon."

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Opteron Opportunity

Under their alliance, AMD and Sun will:

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Port Solaris to Opteron
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Support Linux on Opteron
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Optimize Sun’s Solaris, Java platform and developer tools for Opteron
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Work to accelerate third-party app support for Opteron

What Management Says

To read an interview in which top Sun and AMD execs discuss the deal, go to QuickLink 42905.

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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