INTEL CONFERENCE - Intel turns away from Solaris support on IA-64

Paul Otellini, executive vice president of the Intel Architecture Business Group, on Tuesday delivered his verdict on the long-smoldering relationship between Sun and Intel at the Intel Developers Forum here.

In response to a reporter's question concerning development work between Sun and Intel on an IA-64 version of the Solaris operating system, Otellini said that Sun had not delivered on its promise to support IA-64.

Otellini planted his tongue firmly in his cheek when he commented on how Intel would react to this.

"We will continue to match Sun's level of commitment, but will focus our own efforts elsewhere," Otellini said.

Lack of support has been an issue between the two companies for almost seven years according to an Intel spokesperson, who said that it dates back to development efforts on IA-32.

"They've been all talk and no action," said the spokesperson.

Sun's share of the Unix market on Intel is declining anyway, according to Dan Kuznetsky, senior analyst at IDC.

"Solaris on Intel, as good of a product as it was, has not really caught on with people. This is largely due to the fact that, when people think Sun, they think Sparc. Sun never really did a lot of work to change people out of that thinking pattern," Kuznetsky said.

Nevertheless, Intel will honour its current contract with Sun, which runs through development of the Merced processor, the first of the IA-64 chips, the spokesperson said.

Despite Sun's lack of support, Intel is not without backers for its new platform, however.

"When Itanium ships there will be Windows 2000, Linux, Monterey [IBM AIX for IA-64], HP-UX, and NetWare. So it is not like Solaris dropping off here will badly hurt Itanium," said Kuznetsky. He also pointed out that several months ago Compaq discontinued it Tru64 OS efforts for the Alpha processor.

Although Intel claims Sun's efforts even on the older IA-32 platform have been less than enthusiastic, it is Intel's entry into the heart of Sun's market, Web services, that has brought the issue to a head.

"Intel needs to focus on other markets if they want to maintain 20% growth," said Linley Gwennap, principal analyst at the Linley Group, adding that "The Itanium program is very important to them."

"If Itanium cannot match the performance of IBM or Sun, they [IT organisations] won't care if Intel products can be accessed through multiple sources," Gwennap said.

Although the lack of a Sun Solaris OS on servers may have negligible effect, it may be felt by some manufacturers of thin clients.

"NCR committed to Solaris after making a very public presentation about why SCO and Monterey were not good enough. So if Sun backs out, NCR is in a very exposed position," Kuznetsky said.

One operating system more or less will make little difference to the Intel steamroller according to Kuznetsky.

"The question isn't really whether it [IA-64] is going to be successful or not, but how long will it take to be successful. Given their command of the desktop and server markets, it would be really hard for them to produce a total flop," Kuznetsky said.

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