Sun Microsystems is attacking the low end x86-based server market with force, as it has announcements around both AMD's Opteron processor and Intel's Xeon processor on the way, executives said today.
Scott McNealy, Sun's CEO, Chairman and President, said in an interview that the company has already started work on a 64-bit version of Solaris for AMD's Operton chip. This move shows far more support for AMD's new chip than Sun first indicated with an announcement this week for only a 32-bit version of the OS on Opteron.
"We're doing that," McNealy said. "The investment is happening. It's not hard to get 64-bit since Solaris is a 64-bit OS. That was probably understated at the launch. We just wanted to make sure we were out of the block with what we had ready."
Sun, however, does not plan to ship Opteron-based servers.
"We have no plans today to do x86-64 hardware," McNealy said. "We are very comfortable with 64-bit SPARC."
Sun will be shipping more Intel-based hardware later this year, rolling out what it calls part of a "family of systems."
Sun already ships one Intel-based system - the dual-processor LX50 - but executives admit that this server fell short of expectations.
"That product was done by a team that did not understand the x86 market," said Neil Knox, the head of volume systems at Sun. "We have a lot to learn in the x86 space. It's a totally different environment from SPARC."
Knox confirmed that Sun will use Xeon processors in servers due out next quarter. We pushed Knox to say exactly which kind of Xeon chips Sun will use, but the best we could get out of him was, "It will be a five thh... you almost got me." The only thing we could gather from this was that Sun may use a top-of-the-line Xeon with a 533MHz frontside bus.
All of this activity from Sun in the x86 market still seems odd after so many years of beating the Solaris/SPARC drum. Unlike other Intel vendors, however, Sun does not see a lot of x86 hardware leaving the shipping docks unless SPARC systems are part of the deal as well.
We asked McNealy what he thought the prospects were of an Intel only sale.
"It all depends," he said. "If you go out and buy a piston ring, then you can call that a piston ring-only sale, but nobody really just buys a piston ring. You need a piston, a manifold, then you need an engine block, a carburetor, a distributer, this that and the other thing. Pretty soon you need a car.
"A stand alone Intel server just doesn't solve a problem. You need an app server, directory server, database server, support, etcetera. Pretty soon you need a big freakin Web tone switch."
So how big of a role will your Intel line play then?
"Let's wait until we've done our 32-bit announcement," McNealy said. "We've done one. It's the LX50. You know and I know that there will be better stuff coming out. Wait until the announcement later this year. Then we can talk about it in more detail. It will be interesting." ®