Tech Industry

Intel, Sun feuding over upcoming chips

A simmering dispute regarding an effort to bring Sun's Solaris operating system to servers running upcoming Itanium processors bursts into the open.

It used to be Microsoft vs. Sun Microsystems. Now it's turning into Intel vs. Sun.

A simmering feud between the two over an effort to bring Sun's Solaris operating system to servers running Intel's upcoming Itanium processor has now burst into the open. Intel said today that Sun hasn't been pulling its weight in the partnership and that Intel will drastically reduce the resources it's devoting to the effort.

"We have not seen the same level of commitment as measured by engaging customers or getting" participation by software companies, said Stephen Smith, general manager of Intel's 64-bit chip program. "The momentum is behind the three other operating systems."

Intel will continue to support Solaris on Itanium, the first chip of the IA-64 family, but will dramatically decrease the resources put toward it, he said.

For its part, Sun was surprised and dismayed by the move and suggested Intel is afraid to compete with Sun, which makes servers based on its own UltraSparc chips.

"Apparently they see us as a huge threat," said Anil Gadre, president of Sun Solaris.

The move indicates that Sun is an expendable partner in Intel's effort to spread its upcoming 64-bit chips as widely as possible. Sun also competes with Intel by selling servers based on its own UltraSparc chips.

"It's funny that Sun is as surprised as they are," said Cal Braunstein, an analyst with the Robert Francis Group. "They have not been that overwhelmingly moving forward with their Solaris-on-Intel platform. It's not that they don't have the support, but it's certainly not their highest priority."

Nearly every Intel executive at the Intel Developer Forum in Palm Springs, Calif., seems to be touting a future for Intel that positions it as Sun's closest competitor. Intel wants to be the hardware powerhouse in e-commerce, for instance, a Sun stronghold today.

In many ways, the feud could shape up as a battle of beauty over brawn. Sun develops architecturally interesting servers. Intel's plan is to persuade customers to buy lots of smaller servers that in the end will cost less.

The IA-64 chip family is the spearhead of Intel's effort to sell chips for expensive, high-end servers that today use chips from IBM, Sun, Compaq Computer, Hewlett-Packard or SGI. Intel has been helping many companies move their operating systems to the IA-64 chip family in an effort to make its chip the "unifying architecture" that would be part of all these company's product lines.

Though Intel still has strong hardware support, the number of operating systems planned for IA-64 computers has been dropping. SGI backed Linux instead of its in-house variant of Unix. Compaq dropped plans to have its own Tru64 Unix run on IA-64. And IBM and Santa Cruz Operations teamed up their two efforts into a single software package called Monterey-64.

Paul Otellini, general manager of the Intel Architecture Business Group, said: "We are going to continue to meet our contractual commitments to Sun, (but) we don't see the momentum and support for features that Sun has committed to Itanium and to Intel being delivered in the marketplace," he said. "We will focus our efforts elsewhere."

Sun's Gadre said Intel will suffer from its decision, because Solaris is a popular foundation for e-commerce software.

"We have the world's finest operating environment that can make IA-64 a reality in the enterprise. It looks like they're not interested in that," Gadre said.

In addition, Intel is disrupting the product plans of Fujitsu, Siemens and NCR, companies that have pledged to build Itanium computers with Solaris, Gadre said. "What message (is Intel) sending to them? They bet on IA-64 and thought the right OS was Solaris," Gadre said.

Gadre also said Sun has had a strong commitment to Intel chips, devoting more than $100 million to its effort to develop Solaris on Intel chips.

The Linux wave
The arrival of the Linux operating system freed Intel from its dependence on Sun, Braunstein said.

"Now with Linux coming aboard and everybody buying into Linux as the next big wave here, I think Intel feels they now can put adequate pressure on Sun to say, 'You may have to reconsider your strategy,'" Braunstein said.

Dell Computer, long one of Intel's strongest allies, seems to be in agreement with Intel. Chief executive Michael Dell said his company has decided against an earlier possibility of Solaris on its Itanium machines but is instead favoring Linux and Windows 2000.

"Those two operating environments are particularly attractive to us," said Carl Everett, senior vice president of Dell's personal systems group.

"Our offer to Dell stands," Gadre said.

Intel doesn't appear to be feuding with IBM, which like Sun has plans to bring its own version of Unix to the IA-64 chips.

IBM said today it will release on Feb. 29 early test versions of Monterey-64 to a group of testers so they can begin making sure their software will work on Monterey-Itanium machines. "We've got a fantastic relationship" with Intel, said IBM's Miles Barel.

Intel's decision may be angering Sun, but Intel executives didn't hold back in expressing their dissatisfaction.

"We've been at this for multiple years. When you do that, you expect some return," said Pat Gelsinger, vice president of Intel's desktop products group.

Stephen Shankland reported from San Francisco and Michael Kanellos from Palm Springs.