Sun, Intel Team Up on Xeon

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — Sun Microsystems and Intel today announced an alliance that will involve the joint development, marketing and support of Sun’s Solaris operating system and Java language on Intel’s Xeon microprocessors.

As part of the deal, Intel will endorse and distribute Solaris in the marketplace. Both companies will jointly optimize Solaris, Java and NetBeans on Xeon. The two firms will also work together on future versions of their software to run on Sun machines with Xeon chips.

Sun expects to begin shipping optimized Xeon systems late in the first half of this year. Sun will ship single-, dual- and quad-processor systems this year and the two firms expect to work on building larger systems. Schwartz all but said the company would be working on eight-way systems.

The CEOs of the companies stressed this was all about serving new markets. “We can’t simply be about our own intellectual property,” said Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz at a press conference announcing the deal. “That’s not how customers buy and that’s not how we believe the market actually wants things.”

Intel CEO Paul Otellini said he recognizes the importance in being able to think about Solaris in conjunction with Xeon. “You can take advantage of the installed base of the Intel hardware, but also focus your efforts on Solaris on Xeon to find new markets for your software.”

It may seem a strategy ripe for confusion. Sun is now offering servers powered by AMD  Opteron, Intel Xeon and its own UltraSPARC T1, or Niagara, chips. But Forrester Research Senior Vice President Merv Adrian said it is not an issue.

Forrester found 23 percent of surveyed IT shops didn’t care if a server had an AMD or Intel chip. But that means 77 percent do care to some degree. “For Sun to be locked out of a piece of the market because some people do care about that, even though they have a great OS in Solaris, that’s a shame,” he told

Sun and Intel have had a rather chilly relationship in recent years, but Schwartz said that began to thaw when he took command of Sun last April.

He said he decided to give Otellini a ring and the two CEOs went out to dinner for a casual conversation that soon turned to business.

Schwartz said that since OpenSolaris was released in March 2005, more than 70 percent of the hardware platforms running it are not Sun hardware. Sun’s storage is frequently used on HP and IBM servers.

So, he said, why this disconnect with the largest chip maker in the world? Despite its size, there isn’t a great deal of overlap between the two, which both CEOs pointed out. “This just opens yet more opportunity for consumers not just running Solaris but Linux and Windows and whatever else is out there,” he said.

Otellini added “From our perspective, this isn’t a chip deal. The Solaris installed base is in a lot of places where Intel is not. Being able to offer an optimized environment for Xeon is a good opportunity for us. So it gives us a chance to go beyond the chip aspect.”

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