A Better Solaris on Xeon

In the end, Sun learned that Intel inside really matters.

It didn’t matter how fast the Niagara processors were. People wanted their Intel machines, and if that was what it took to get Sun servers running Solaris in these companies, then by golly that’s what Sun would do.

So even though it offers Niagara and AMD  Opteron-based systems, Sun  embraced Intel today, making Xeon-based desktops and servers a part of its product offerings.

“There’s no reason for them to lock themselves out of a piece of a market, because people do care about the processor. There are beliefs and strategic partnerships companies make, and if you are in a situation with an OS and platform that doesn’t run on that blessed configuration, you’ve closed yourself out of that segment of the market,” said Merv Adrian, senior vice president of research for Forrester Research.

Intel said the same thing in a briefing with internetnews.com immediately following the announcement.

“At some level, it comes down to customer choice. We’re here to open up new markets with this relationship. Intel has a leading market position in this space,” said Tom Goguen, vice president of system software at Sun.

Solaris runs on a number of platforms, but it was written to ensure compatibility between platforms. Optimization was not a part of the design. That will be one of the points of emphasis between Sun and Intel as they begin their new working relationship.

“It’s one thing to build Solaris that runs on all these systems. It’s another thing to cooperate with the team designing and building Intel’s architecture to really leverage the technology built into the Xeon platform,” said Goguen. “This will enable us to do many more interesting things than we are doing now and do it much easier than if we did it ourselves.”

Aside from performance, that would include things like dynamic tracing and selective self-healing in Solaris 10, which can be improved through platform optimization. Sun also has an aggressive virtualization plan around Solaris 10 involving containers and Xen Hypervisor.

Sun plans to release an update for Solaris 10 this summer. It will contain the first improvements to the operating system from this new alliance. Improvements to Java and NetBeans will also come later this year.

Platform optimization will become increasingly important as the companies move to multi-core systems. A four-processor Xeon 5300, which has four cores, is essentially a 16-core chip. Multithreading needs to be handled properly or it will become a disaster. Or fail to live up to its billing.

“As you go to multi-core, multi-socket, you need an operating system that’s been well designed to take advantage of the capabilities that the chip vendor is building,” said Doug Fisher, vice president of Intel’s System Software division.

“You’re leaving something on the table if you don’t optimize. We have deep expertise in software that will work with the Solaris group to ensure things will work right.”

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