As expected, Sun and Intel announced an mutually beneficial alliance to promote each other's products. For Sun, Intel embraces Solaris with engineering, support, OEM distribution and marketing, and for Intel, Sun will add Xeon (Woodcrest, Clovertown, etc)-based systems to its x86 product line, currently AMD only.
Podcast: Listen to the full press conference
"This is a market changing event. This totally changes how customer vision on how they can do business with Sun and Intel," Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz said during the press conference. Schwartz cited Intel's brand, reach and momentum in market place, and giving customers more choice and options, as justification for the alliance from Sun's end.
"Solaris just became a lot safer choice for Dell, HP and IBM. Now that we have a foothold, we want to be a supplier of those Intel systems, and we believe we can engineer better enterprise class systems than Dell, HP or IBM," said Anil Gadre, chief marketing officer at Sun.
Sun and Intel engineers will work together on enhancing Solaris on Intel as part of the ongoing relationship. "This definitely changes the game in the operating system landscape," Schwartz added, emphasizing the importance of giving Solaris more legs to compete with Windows and Linux. "This is a way of making our R&D more efficient. We are not interested in capping R&D, we look at the return on R&D. Sun simply delivering Sparc or AMD systems, misses a big opportunity."
Jonathan Schwartz (left) described the alliance with Intel and Paul Otellini (right) as a landmark relationship for the industry. It's more of an opportunistic relationship that meets their respective goals
"This is not just a chip deal. The installed base of Solaris is in a lot of places where Intel is not, such as financial and telco markets," said Paul Otellini, CEO of Intel. In addition to working with Sun to get the Xeon above 8-way systems, he also said that he would like to see Sun bring Solaris to Intel's Itanium processor. Schwartz did not respond to the request.
I spoke to John Fowler, who heads up Sun's hardware group, about taking on Intel, after abandoning the company's chips two years ago. Fowler said the two companies had been talking about collaborating for a year, and the discussions heated up in the fall of 2006. He said the Intel alliance was not a diss on AMD, and cited three reasons for the change of heart between the two companies.
"Intel has been more interested in Solaris, Intel's technology has substantially improved, and we have always planned to have Intel in the portfolio at some point," Fowler said. "It's not a big surprise. Now we are more like everybody else [selling both AMD and Intel systems]. Customers want a choice of suppliers for technology or imagined reasons." Solaris current runs on Intel systems, but alliance will work on device drivers, power management, virtualization and other features, he said.
Sun plans to have dual processor systems available in the latter part of the first half of this year. "Certain products will be similar [between Intel and AMD systems from Sun], such as DP rack servers, but others will be different. AMD is clearly better for high performance computing. We'll make it clear which is best for which kind of project," Fowler said.