Sun Microsystems, along with partners Intel , NCR , Siemens, and Fujitsu announced yesterday that it has delivered Solaris on the Intel IA-64 Pre-silicon Software Development Environment, an IA-64 emulator using the Merced architecture.
"Sun has successfully completed the initial port of the Solaris operating environment to Merced in only nine months," said Sun Vice President Rich Green. "Because the Solaris code base fully supports 64-bit computing and is almost completely platform independent, we have been able to port Solaris to the IA-64 Pre-Silicon Software Development Environment in record time."
Sun and Intel partnered in December 1997 to offer Solaris on Merced's IA-64 architecture -- with Merced originally scheduled to ship in mid 1999 -- as an alternative to the planned Windows NT 64-bit OS, which has yet to materialise. Following the December agreement, NCR, Siemens, and Fujitsu joined with Sun to offer hardware and software support.
However, like Windows 2000, Merced has yet to materialize and is not expected until sometime next year, which may make the Sun announcement somewhat pre-emptive, but, says Solaris Marketing Director Brian Croll, this milestone demonstrates that the team is on schedule and will be ready when Merced is.
"There is still a big opportunity for us when Merced ships," said Croll. "Neither AIX or HP-UX works on IA-32 like Solaris, so we will be able to provide users a smooth transition to IA-64."
It's true that AIX has no IA-32 version, but Solaris on Intel will be going head to head with Monterey, the IBM-SCO IA-64 OS planned for Merced. Though the alliance has been criticised by analysts as unlikely to succeed, the Santa Cruz Operation (SCO) does hold the vast majority of the Unix-on-Intel market.
"Solaris is positioned for the enterprise and for dedicated server applications where you don't really find SCO," said Croll. "There have always been alliances (like Monterey), but how many of them have produced any products? The difference for Solaris/Merced is that we don't have two cooks in the kitchen."
The other threat, of course, is Microsoft. To date, Redmond has not managed to produce a 64-bit OS, but Merced's late delivery may give it the time it needs to catch up.
"You are always worried about NT... and they may be ready for Merced, but past history makes that seem unlikely," said Croll.
The move for Solaris-based ISVs (independent software vendors) to Solaris on Intel will be smooth, added Croll, and is a simply a matter of recompiling existing software for the new platform.
Solaris will provide full compatibility on Merced for the more than 3,200 Solaris on Intel applications that are available today. This, says Sun, means that ISVs with applications that do not require 64-bit addressing or the full Merced performance do not have to change or recompile their existing 32-bit Solaris on Intel applications to take advantage of Merced.
Indeed, if Solaris on Merced is everything it's cracked up to be, then there is some uncertainty about the future of SPARC. To users at any level, there will be no difference between the two processors, according to Croll. This, and the possibility that Intel, whose volume processor production vastly exceeds Sun's, will be able to produce Merced for a fraction of the cost of SPARC processors, could take a large bite out of Sun's hardware sales. And so what if Sun sells more copies of Solaris? Hardware accounts for more than 90% of Sun's revenue.
"We don't think the world will be all SPARC or all Intel. We have found that MIS departments will be more comfortable with Solaris if they know that it is going to run on both Intel and SPARC," answers Sun's Croll. "That means that by going to Intel we will be helping our SPARC business, and it isn't clear that Merced is going to be more expensive than SPARC in any case."
"Chips are always harder to design than roadmaps," November 1998 SunWorld feature story is at http://www.sunworld.com/swol-11-1998/swol-11-processor.html/.
"How will Merced alter OS landscape?" July 1998 SunWorld news story is at http://www.sunworld.com/sunworldonline/swol-07-1998/swol-07-merced.html/.
"Merced delayed until mid-2000," June 1998 SunWorld news story is at http://www.sunworld.com/sunworldonline/swol-06-1998/swol-06-ia64delay.html/.
"Salad days for Solaris on Intel?" June 1998 SunWorld news story is at http://www.sunworld.com/sunworldonline/swol-06-1998/swol-06-x86.html/.
"Solaris on Merced: What's in it for Sun?" January 1998 SunWorld feature story is at http://www.sunworld.com/sunworldonline/swol-01-1998/swol-01-ia64.html /.