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Sun Shooting Multiple Arrows at x86

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SAN FRANCISCO — Sun Microsystems is hoping to use
its 64-bit server systems to regain market share in 2004, but not running on
the chip you might expect.

Rajesh Shakkarwar, Sun’s newest director in the Volume Systems Group, who was appointed to lead the company’s x86 systems team, said the company is depending on AMD and its Opteron processor to help it take the lead in its x86-based volume server
offerings, add more customers, and shape the outcome of the enterprise IT
sector in the next 12 months.

The strategy is based on a partnership
Shakkarwar helped broker between the Santa Clara, Calif.-based network
computer maker and the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based semiconductor maker.

“The x86 piece fits in as part of a huge server pie and we want to be a part of that pie,” Shakkarwar, told reporters during a briefing here. “Sun is taking a leadership role in directing that space and that is where Opteron comes in.”

Shakkarwar said Sun will sell 2-way and potentially 4-way Opteron-based systems because the company wants to “hit the bell curve where the most customer demand will be.” But Sun is also looking at its partnership with Intel to round out its volume-priced offerings. Whether Intel decides that relationship will be based on 32-bit or 64-bit Xeon processors is unclear. As previously reported, Intel’s top brass has indicated that it’s looking at 64-bit extensions for its Xeon processor putting it in direct competition with its own Itanium.

That it is including the phrase x86 in its product line is somewhat of a 180-degree turnaround for Sun.

In 1989, CEO Scott McNeally decided Sun’s manifest destiny was to move
the company’s entire product line to SPARC processors. At that time the
company was shipping machines based on Intel, Motorola and SPARC (produced
by Texas Instruments). McNeally heralded the changes with the motto: “All
the wood behind one arrow.” The arrow in that case was SPARC.

Almost two years ago, Sun re-entered the market with one x86 server
running Linux — the LX50.

Shakkarwar, who was flanked by Sun x86 OS Group Manager Jack O’Brien and
Sun Senior Director of Market Development Richard Finlayson, said the
resurgence of Sun in the x86 space is due in part to Sun’s work to bring the Solaris operating system forward in its support of x86 processes.

“It’s not for lack of technical ability… the market process is going faster than the customer’s need,” Finlayson said. “We are adding previews of our Solaris ‘Next’ software every month. Our customer evaluation is in mid-process and for the most part, these are 32-bit applications that have been validated by Oracle, BEA, Sybase, and a community of iForce partners.

Shakkarwar said more than 600 ISVs and more 800 hardware and software programs have been certified for Solaris x86 activity in APAC as well as native applications from Oracle, BEA.

Sun has also established a marketing pecking order with AMD on top and Intel just underneath. For example, company salespeople are expected to suggest Intel’s Xeon 2P as the best candidate for a Sun “entry level” server. After that, Sun will advise customers toward an Opteron 2P, followed
by two servers that have not been released — an Intel-based Xeon 4P, and an
Opteron 4P setup. Beyond 4-way systems, the company said it would depend on
the customer’s needs.

“Even though we love Opteron, it would never be able to scale past
8-way,” Shakkarwar said. “If you are a customer and you want that larger
scale thing with more features a lot better throughput, we would suggest
turning to SPARC chips.

Sun is expected to update its hardware and software lineups on Tuesday
February 10 as part of its NC’04 announcement.

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