Sun shines on Intel’s Xeon as the two companies ally

The first systems to reflect the new strategic agreement will be released mid-year

The outstanding development roadmap for Intel’s Xeon processors was the main attraction for Sun in choosing to form a long-term alliance with the chip-maker last week.

Sun executive vice-president John Fowler cited Intel’s dual-core Woodcrest (Xeon 5100) and quad-core Clovertown (Xeon 5300) as examples of a current popular line destined for even more powerful growth, with eight-way and 16-way processors expected in the medium term.

The processors, and the architecture and fabrication standards behind them, will enable the Xeon processors to take an expanded market share when it comes to “mission-critical” roles, says Kirk Skaugen, vice president of Intel’s server products group. The Xeon range has previously lacked a “mission-critical Unix”.

At the same time, both Fowler and Skaugen emphasised — in an international conference call last week — that the agreement is “much more than a short-term chip-design win”. There will be increasing alignment between the two companies in the market, says Skaugen.

Fowler says Sun plans to use a version of its Solaris operating system and closely integrate it with Intel’s hardware, while Skaugen says chip and operating system upgrades will be tightly coordinated.

The first systems to, practically, reflect this new strategic agreement will be released mid-year.

Sun has previously put its x86 investments behind Intel’s rival AMD. There will continue to be a role for AMD in Solaris-based systems, says Fowler. Together, the two chip-makers will enable Sun to serve a larger market, as the ranges will partly complement each other, he says. But there will also be some overlap.

The range of systems that will result from the collaboration will include workstations, general-purpose blade and rack servers, as well as machines designed specifically for telecoms use, both in blade and rack format.

Duncan Bennett, Sun sales director for Australia and NZ (who is standing in for the vacant position of NZ country manager), says the new range “gives us a broadening of the product line, which will be handled through existing channels.”

More channel partners who have skills pertinent to the new systems and their expected markets could be recruited in time, but this will be handled through existing master distributor Express Data.

Adding Intel’s Xeon to AMD’s and Sparc’s processors will result in more choice for Solaris users, says Bennett, who doesn’t see the new relationship damaging relations with AMD.

One of Bennett’s current jobs in New Zealand is to select a permanent country manager, to replace Peter Idoine who left to become managing director of Oracle New Zealand earlier this year.

The appointment should be made in the next month or so, “certainly by the end of February”, he says.

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