Sun, AMD officials on Opteron systems

Sun Microsystems Monday said it will start shipping Opteron-based systems early next year, offering customers either Linux or Solaris operating systems. The Opteron processor, made by Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Advanced Micro Devices, is capable of running 64-bit and 32-bit applications.

In a telephone interview, Neil Knox, Sun's executive vice president of volume systems products, and Dirk Meyer, AMD's senior vice president of computational products, discussed the reasons for the agreement and what customers can expect.

Q: What will this agreement mean for your two companies?

Meyer: What we're announcing here is a long-term strategic alliance between the two companies, which will go far beyond a relationship where we simply sell microprocessor components to Sun. We will be collaborating on a range of fronts, starting at the customer, (where) we will be engaged in joint sales and marketing activities. In addition, we will be collaborating directly on the creation of an AMD 64 or Opteron software ecosystem. A number of enterprise-hardened (independent software vendors) are already on board, such as Oracle, SAP, Sybase, BEA Systems. We will put processes in place to ensure that processors that we develop in the future comprehend Sun's requirements and the requirements of enterprise customers. So it's a broad and deep relationship.

Q: What led Sun to this decision to offer Opteron?

Knox: Our customer base is asking about the Opteron chip set, and it appeared to us to be a very compelling CPU design. It has 32-bit and 64-bit capabilities -- the best of both worlds. We already had an existing relationship with AMD, and it made a lot of sense to make this the next step -- if we could construct a strategic alliance rather than just a buy/sell relationship. I think that's what we have been able to do here.

Q: What will be the difference between your Solaris and Linux offerings on Opteron?

Knox: Obviously, Solaris, the industry's most reliable, robust and trusted (operating system), really stands out as far as its capability. The customers will be able to look at that as a set of features at a certain cost and compare that to the two Linux offerings, one from Red Hat and one from SuSE. And we will be focused very much on the Java Enterprise Server stack. We want to be (a) strategic vendor of choice to the customer.

Q: Sun has been criticized by some analysts for not embracing Linux when the customer base clearly is. By offering Opteron and Linux, are you increasing your commitment to Linux?

Knox: The commitment to Linux has always been there because we believe a Linux license sold is better than the option of a Microsoft option. I think the addition of an x86 Opteron solution set, whether it is Solaris or Linux, clearly shows our commitment as a company to offer choices.

Q: Do you see Opteron in a market battle with Itanium?

Knox: I believe the Opteron CPU competes against anything we know that's out there.

Meyer: We frankly don't position Opteron against Itanium, and (we) don't think of Itanium as the competition. Itanium represents a pretty boring marketplace because nobody is buying it. We position Opteron squarely against Xenon.

Q: If the Opteron competes better than anything else that's out there, what does that say about Sun's UltraSPARC chip? Does your adoption of Opteron signal at a backing away from your RISC investment?

Knox: Absolutely not. Opteron gives us the capability to continue to build our business-revenue stream, which is a new incremental revenue stream for the company in that space. We're marching forward with Sparc and chip multithreading, and this gives us an option to focus on that direction.

Q: When we will see Opteron-based systems from Sun?

Knox: Early next calendar year.

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