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Sun and AMD toast their Opteron marriage

China Linux desktop win for dessert

Update As previously reported by The Register, Sun and AMD have formed a relationship around the Opteron processor and Solaris x86 and are teaming to lure software partners such as Oracle onto their systems.

Over the next year, Sun will roll out two and four processor Opteron servers. The systems will be available with Linux and Sun's own Solaris x86 operating system in both 32bit and 64bit flavors. Sun also intends to work with AMD on larger SMP designs in the future.

Developers will have access to the Sun servers by the end of this year. A generally available 64bit version of Solaris x86 will be ready by the middle of next year.

Sun plans to offer its Java Desktop System - a Linux OS - on Opteron workstations. This will serve primarily as an application development system. The company, however, will not comment on when the workstations will arrive.

Sun's CEO Scott McNealy made this announcement at the Comdex trade show, as El Reg first predicted. AMD's CEO Hector Ruiz joined McNealy on stage.

Ruiz's appearance should come as no surprise given the magnitude of this deal for AMD. Up to this point, IBM was the only major server vendor to back Opteron - doing so with a system aimed at high performance computing and little else. Sun's Opteron ambitions appear to stretch much wider with the company talking about rolling out an "entire line" of Opteron kit.

Sun has brought AMD into its iForce partner program for testing applications and porting software onto Solaris x86. One of the key partners here is Oracle, which plans to run its database on Opteron systems for both Linux and Solaris. A 64bit version of Oracle for Linux is due out by year end, but the company would not comment on when similar software will be ready for 64bit Solaris x86.

Merrill Lynch server guru Steve Milunovich was quick to chime in on Sun's news.

"Sun might get lucky in that Itanium could prove disappointing," he wrote in a research note. "CEO McNealy has long held it's difficult to introduce a new instruction set into the computing arena. Analyst Joe Osha recently suggested that Intel may emphasize Yamhill, its 32-bit extension processor, over Itanium. If Itanium drops the ball, Opteron is poised to pick it up and run."

The pressure of being Sun's biggest critic must be getting to "The Loon." Last we checked, Intel had a stranglehold on the 32bit chip market. Most industry experts are looking for the Yamhill extensions to be 64bit, making chips based on the technology competitive against Opteron. But, hey, Miloonovich has an unparalleled reputation in the industry and a heck of a cheerleading outfit collection, so maybe he's onto something the rest of us aren't privy to.

Sun's move toward Opteron gives the company a natural extension to both its workstation and server lines. Sun has seen its share of the workstation market dwindle by sticking with RISC-only systems but now gets one of the top performing x86 chips in the industry.

On the server side, Sun is expanding its lines of x86 servers, placing the Opteron boxes alongside its Xeon and Athlon systems. In addition, Sun opens a new channel for 64-bit computing. This gives Sparc customers an alternative should they want one and puts pressure on Intel's flagging 64bit Itanium processor.

The move also helps address criticism Sun has received for being too tied to its Sparc architecture. Illuminata's Gordon Haff summed this up well in a research note issued Monday.

"Sun is doing bold again - something that it does well, though it may be trying too many bold things at once. It is certainly setting itself some tough development and support challenges at a time when financial analysts are calling on it to cut costs and save money. But, anyone who has been around the computer industry for a decade or more can tick off the names of many, many companies - including most of the Route 128 minicomputer makers - that did not go bold when they should have, choosing instead to continue conducting business as usual until there wasn't any more business to conduct. Sun, if nothing else, is working hard to change its pace and place in the game."

Along with the Opteron systems, Sun announced a big win for its Java Desktop System. The Chinese government will roll out 500,000 to one million PCs with the software over the next year.

"This, I believe makes us the number one Linux desktop player on the planet," McNealy said. "The goal is to reach the Chinese government's goal of 500 million alternative desktops, and you can decide what alternative means."

Sun's software chief Jonathan Schwartz forecasted this move last week in an exclusive interview here. The deal brings Sun's desktop business into the black even though it sold the Java Desktop System at well under the $50 per desktop gong rate. ®

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