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Sun drops more hints on Opteron servers

Sun Microsystems executives say the company plans to launch its first Opteron Sun Fire servers as soon as the first quarter of next year.

Sun Microsystems has shed more light on its plans to create a line of servers based on Advanced Micro Devices' 64-bit Opteron processor.

Sun, which recently announced a broad partnership with AMD, hosted a meeting Wednesday at its Burlington, Mass., offices to discuss the partnership. During the meeting, Sun executives said the company plans to launch its first Opteron Sun Fire servers as soon as the first quarter of next year.

The company expects to follow that release with a 64-bit version of its Solaris operating system for Opteron by the middle of 2004. Sun plans to offer a preview version of the OS in the late spring, followed by a production version in the summer, the company said.

Sun chose the Opteron because it believes the chip will give it an edge in the market for less-expensive servers, which typically are based on Intel processors.

The Opteron is based on x86, the chip architecture behind all PC processors from Intel and AMD. But the chip also sports AMD-designed 64-bit capabilities, which speed performance in part by allowing it to address large amounts of memory. A 64-bit processor is a particular advantage in servers in which large databases are used. Opteron is still compatible with 32-bit applications and operating systems--which make up the bulk of the OS and application software currently available--and can run them without affecting performance, AMD said.

"We had embarked on expanding our presence in the x86 space, both because our customers wanted us to broaden our offerings in that space and also because...we wanted to help on the migration from 32-bit to 64-bit" software, said Souheil Saliba, vice president of marketing and strategy for Sun's volume systems products. "We started working with AMD and realized there really was a unique and compelling proposition in the combination of Sun products and AMD processors."

Sun has said that it will offer dual- and four-processor Opteron Sun Fire servers at first. However, the company plans to build out the product line over time, offering servers with as many as eight Opterons, Saliba said.

"It is a broad product line that will continue," he said. "We're talking about product road maps that will go three to five years and beyond."

Although Sun is working on a 64-bit Solaris OS for Opteron, the company also will offer Opteron server customers a 64-bit version of the Linux operating system from SuSE, Sun said.

While Sun is looking to Opteron to boost its fortunes in servers, the partnership between the two companies will go beyond just building computers.

Sun and AMD will collaborate on developing server hardware and compare notes on creating future versions of the Opteron chip. The companies also will work together on software development and marketing.

"We aim to comprehend Sun's ideas and thoughts and requirements, if you will, in our forward-looking road map," said Dirk Meyer, senior vice president of AMD's computation products group, who also attended the meeting.

Meanwhile, AMD will help Sun with Hypertransport, a high-speed chip-to-chip connection, Meyer said.

While Sun will continue to offer its UltraSparc servers, it plans to also keep offering Intel Xeon processor servers and support them with its software, Sun said.