Sun, Intel Push Optimized Solaris

SAN FRANCISCO – Eighteen months after Sun Microsystems and Intel made peace and announced plans for Intel-based servers as well as working together on Intel-optimized software, the two companies held a briefing with reporters here Tuesday to update their progress and future direction.

Much of their work has centered around optimizing OpenSolaris, the experimental version of Solaris (Sun’s Unix variant) where new features are tested and debugged before being added to the official Solaris product that is shipped with Sun servers. That deal is bearing fruit already in helping Sun (NASDAQ: JAVA) optimize Java for Solaris.

“The January ’07 deal gained us access to Intel’s architecture to do things in Solaris we could not do before,” said Herb Hinstorff, director of marketing for Sun Solaris. “The first year was all about getting to know each other.
This year, we are shipping Intel optimizations in Solaris now and Intel is a contributing member to OpenSolaris.”

Dave Stewart, a software engineering manager at Intel (NASDAQ: INTC), added: “It has been tremendous to see the results of the collaborative effort of marrying Solaris with Xeons. We’re now working with the Sun xVM team to deliver some virtualization optimizations.”

Beyond the CPU

But the work isn’t just on the CPU level. Andy Roach, senior director of x64 engineering for Solaris, added “We’re working on more than just CPUs. We’re working to deliver full Intel-based solution stacks to Solaris users.” He said Intel developers are frequently seen in Sun offices and vice versa.

Sun gives away OpenSolaris and new versions are released every six months, as opposed to the multi-year gap between Solaris releases. After the developer community has had a chance to experiment with technologies on OpenSolaris, such as virtualization, power management and CPU optimization, those technologies will migrate to the enterprise product.

The two companies made Penryn optimizations to OpenSolaris and Hinstorff said they hope to have all of the enabling technologies for Nehalem, Intel’s new processor architecture due by the end of the year, in the next release of OpenSolaris.

There will have to be optimizations because Nehalem will represent a major change in architecture over the current Xeon design. The memory controller will be on the CPU, noted Roach, which will mean a major drop in memory latency and improvement in performance. Nehalem will also use a different kind of memory, DDR3.

The two companies are also working on Java performance tuning. Within the first six months of the alliance by the two firms, Java performance had improved 20 percent, and at JavaOne earlier this year, they announced a 68 percent benchmark improvement. The Java groups at Sun and Intel are working on optimizations across multiple operating systems, with the goal “to have best performing Java on Intel as possible,” said Hinstorff.

IDC vice president Jean Bozman said the alliance is definitely starting to benefit Sun. “Sun has seen an improvement in its x86 sales, but there are multiple reasons for it,” she told “One reason is they are now able to tap into a very large segment of the marketplace where they hadn’t been participating before. By optimizing Solaris for Intel, it could only make things better for them.”

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