Intel: Open source drew us to Solaris

Rising popularity of Solaris on the Intel platform was part of reasons behind renewed server pact between Sun and Intel.
Written by Aaron Tan, Contributor

Open source was behind Intel's decision to add Solaris to its list of supported operating systems, according to a top official from the chip giant.

Under a new partnership inked with Intel, Sun Microsystems will optimize the Solaris operating system (OS) for the Intel platform, and begin shipping Xeon-based systems in the first half of 2007. Sun and Intel will also collaborate in joint marketing, design and engineering efforts.

Speaking to reporters in the Asia-Pacific region during a teleconference today, Kirk Skaugen, vice president and general manager of Intel's server products, said the "open-sourcing of Solaris" changed Intel's mind about the OS. Before this, Intel only supported Windows and Linux on its x86 architecture.

Skaugen said: "If you look at the 7 million downloads of OpenSolaris in 2005, almost two-thirds of those were primarily for the Intel architecture, while one-third was for UltraSparc."

He noted that Intel has always been a strong proponent of open source, and applauded recent moves by Sun to make Solaris and Java open source. "This is a new environment where there a very large Solaris installed base that's moving toward open source," he said.

"[AMD] understands how business works, and that Intel's endorsing Solaris is generally good for Sun."
-- John Fowler
Sun Microsystems

In addition, prior to the new agreement, Skaugen noted that Solaris only ran on AMD's Opteron and Sun's Sparc processors. The Intel executive is confident that this will now change: "Over time, a large percentage of [those platforms] will move to Intel, if we partner closely with Sun.

"It's obviously a great opportunity for us to optimize Solaris for Xeon, and have business returns based on our hardware relationship with Sun," Skaugen said.

Past relationships
Before today's announcement, AMD--with its Opteron processors--was the exclusive supplier of Sun's x86 server chips. According to John Fowler, Sun's executive vice president for servers, the company moved away from Intel's Xeon processor in 2004 because it wanted an exclusive relationship with AMD.

But, Sun regained interest in November 2005 when both companies started discussions on the new partnership.

Fowler explained that recent advances in Intel's architecture "represent much stronger technology than they've had in the past, which got us very interested".

The increased opportunities in the marketplace around open source Solaris, coupled with greater demand from customers for Intel's Xeon Clovertown and Woodcrest processors, also helped seal the deal, Fowler said. He added that revenue contributions from Sun's Xeon-based servers are expected to increase in the next few years.

Skaugen said: "Our model of alternating microarchitecture and processor technology every other year delivers a very competitive roadmap going forward.

"That's also another reason why we were able to come to an agreement, not just [based] on today's quad core [processors] but a multi-generation one," he said.

Fowler said the agreement with Intel would not affect Sun's relationship with AMD. "[AMD] understands how business works, and that Intel's endorsing Solaris is generally good for Sun," he said.

"[AMD] has a very big product line with Sun, and they also expect to continue to participate in the growth of my business," Fowler added. "They do not necessarily see this as entirely bad news."

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