While SunSoft - the software subsidiary of Sun Microsystems - has long made its operating software available on Intel-based systems, the firm claims this is the first time Intel has agreed to set up porting centres to help software vendors optimise applications, indicating the seriousness of the undertaking.
"Before it was two separate architectures and we would buy a PC system and port to it but this is the companies coming together to make sure we are optimising in the best possible way," said Alistair Lamb, marketing manager for SunSoft Europe.
"It's a continuation of the story of Solaris running on both [Sun's] Sparc [microprocessor] and Intel and it demonstrates we're committed to the Intel roadmap. For Intel, they're obviously coming from the smaller systems end and they need an operating system that's the most robust, reliable and scalable out there. That's Solaris."
Lamb declined to be specific but agreed that only something like 15 per cent of Solaris users are currently running Intel-based hardware.
"Where we have won is a number of large deals around the world in retail where there is a Sparc box in the back-end but Intel-based boxes in retail branches, all running Solaris," Lamb said, citing the Specsavers spectacles chain as a UK example.
Lamb said that 90 per cent of Solaris code is common to both Intel and Sparc processors and only the lower layers of the code interface with the respective Sparc- or Intel-based hardware.
Julian Lomberg, Solaris product manager at SunSoft, said that the Merced agreement didn't mean a lessening in commitment to Sun's own Sparc architecture.
"Nobody can predict the future and if we knew how big Merced will become after it hits the streets in 1999, we'd all be rich men. This is a way for companies to keep the architectural flexibility they demand. We already see people deploying both the big box, mission-critical Sparc in headquarters and a mix or smaller Sparcs and Intel servers - or sometimes only Intel servers - in the branches. Nothing has changed. It's still up to the hardware side of the Sun business to provide unique value. Don't make the mistake of thinking one horse is standing still while the other is charging ahead."
Lomberg added that "nothing precludes or demands" the possibility of Sun making Merced-based systems. The company has previously tried its hands at selling Intel-based systems and add-in cards.