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Sun, AMD Join Forces on 64-Bit Computing

Two Silicon Valley giants are getting together to cut into the enterprise server and processor sectors currently dominated by the likes of IBM and Intel .

Sun and Advanced Micro Devices executives announced Monday the release of Sun Fire servers running on 64-bit Opterons (originally codenamed the "Hammer"). It's the first step in what both companies say is a long-term strategic alliance to adapt 64-bit computing on Solaris, Java and Linux technologies.

Sun hopes to roll out several Opteron-powered systems throughout next year while working with the chip maker to develop new products.

As something of a surprise to many, Sun announced its intentions to port its Solaris OS on the x86 architecture into a mixed 64-bit/32-bit computing environment by sometime in mid-2004. Currently, the OS only supports 32-bit computing (UltraSPARC nonwithstanding) and Sun has not made any noise recently about any plans to accommodate faster computing. Along that vein, the two companies will also host an iForce Partner Program to get developers to port their applications to the Solaris OS .

For Sun, the deal means the company can pitch enterprise-grade 64-bit computing without the high prices associated with Intel's chips on IBM systems. In today's cash-strapped IT departments, that could give them an edge against IBM with its On Demand service and Microsoft's business server business, both of whom are making a huge push to entrench themselves as de facto server providers on the corporate infrastructure.

It gives Sun some traction in the x86 and Linux markets, two areas they've made little headway with in recent times, said Jean Bozman, IDC worldwide server group research vice president. Her research firm finds that one-half of all server revenues come from the x86 segment, while Linux server revenues have leapt 40 percent each quarter over the past year, with $2 billion in spending this year and $8 billion expected by 2007.

"Sun has (gotten into x86) in a pretty unique way by going to AMD," she said. "Because what they're going to do is have a chip there that's going to allow them to into each PC space very quickly."

AMD, on the other hand, gets access to the customer base Sun enjoys today and makes the chip maker a more viable and recognized name to compete against Intel. The knock against AMD in the corporate environment, Bozman said, is that many companies didn't take them seriously because they've never fallen in with one of the four major server vendors who cover 80 percent of the market share -- IBM, Sun, Hewlett-Packard and Dell .

Sun was the last of the four she expects AMD could have signed with, since Dell has a deep relationship with Intel and HP has just launched its own Itanium line.

For the past year the two companies have been signing a successive string of agreements to bring its two products together. In February, Sun signed AMD to deliver 32-bit processing power to its UltraSPARC blade servers.

"Over the past year we've made a dramatic move in leveraging industry economics to bring customers the enterprise-class benefits of our Solaris OS and Java technology at compelling price points," said outspoken Scott McNealy, Sun chairman and chief executive officer, in a statement Monday. "With the addition of the AMD Opteron processor, we are setting a new industry standard by delivering even more choice and performance to our customers."