Sun bumps back Opteron servers

Delay in delivery of Galaxy family casts light on Sun's x86 ambitions and on the unending tug-of-war between AMD and Intel.

BOSTON--Sun Microsystems has pushed back the delivery date of a server family built around Opteron chips, as it makes adds and tweaks to the lineup.

The Galaxy family of servers, based on technology acquired when Sun bought start-up Kealia a year ago, will have as many eight processor sockets. Sun will start shipping the first of those products this summer, said John Fowler, an executive in Sun's network systems group.

That's later than Sun had planned. Last year, Fowler said he expected a full new family of servers based on Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron to be released by end of June 2005.

"It's taking a little longer than we had hoped, but the products will be better," Fowler said Wednesday, in an interview at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo here.

Fowler's reason for the delay: Sun added some new products and refined others after hearing comments from customers about its existing servers. One change will be better management tools, he said.

The stakes are high for Sun. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company is promoting Opteron aggressively as it tries to expand use of its Solaris operating system as an alternative to Linux. It's also making an effort to catch up with Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Dell in the market for servers that use x86 processors such as Opteron and Intel's Xeon.

It's made some progress. In the fourth quarter, Sun was the top buyer of Opteron processors, AMD CEO Hector Ruiz said earlier this month. As for sales of Opteron servers, 55 percent of Sun's customers come back for more, Fowler said.

Still, Linux continues to be much more popular than Solaris on Sun's x86-based servers. In addition, Sun has a tiny share of the overall market for servers based on x86 processors.

On top of that, Sun's edge in Opteron systems isn't necessarily permanent. Henri Richard, AMD's executive vice president for sales and marketing, hinted in an interview that some server makers that have been holding out on the AMD chip may start buying in the second half of 2005. That's when dual-core Opterons, which combine two processing engines on a single slice of silicon, are set to launch.

"I think as dual-core (arrives), you will see broader endorsement," Richard said. "If you don't have a dual-core Opteron in the second half of this year, you're going to be at a significant disadvantage."

AMD rival Intel isn't standing idle, though. Among other things, the chipmaker is adding features such as technology to its processors, designed to make it easier to run multiple operating systems on one server. And it still dominates the x86 market, despite Opteron's gains.

Sun already sells two-processor and four-processor Opteron servers, the V20z and V40z. What's different with the Galaxy line is that it is

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