Sun to Use Intel Chips: An Alliance by Any Other Name

I've seen so many announcements of once unimaginable corporate hookups in my time on the tech beat—Steve Jobs onstage at Macworld Boston in 1997 announcing a rapprochement with Microsoft before a massive projection of a remotely linked Bill Gates; Sun's Scott McNealy and Microsoft's Steve Ballmer burying the hatchet and exchanging bon mots in San Francisco in 2004—that today's joint Sun-Intel press conference, at which the two companies announced a new partnership, wasn't what you'd call earth-shattering, or even that surprising, given the rumors that preceded it.

Which is not to say that Sun's plan to begin building a line of servers that run on Intel chips, and Intel's plan for a reciprocal endorsement of Sun's Solaris OS wasn't big news. I wouldn't argue with the two company's official ''landmark alliance'' tag if you're looking for adjectives to describe the long-term agreement.

The two companies expect the partnership to expand the reach of Intel Xeon processor and Solaris OS-based solutions. ''Solaris adoption will be driven by the Intel Xeon processor's significant market presence,'' they said in a press release, ''and in turn Solaris will give Intel a broader presence in the datacenter, virtualization, and high performance computing space.'' Sun plans ''to complement its current offerings with platforms based on Intel architecture optimized for Solaris'' beginning in the first half of 2007.

Sun's CEO Jonathan Schwartz called the alliance ''a market-changing event.'' A bit hyperbolic, but a defensible description. ''This totally changes the perspective a customer has on how they can do business with Sun and how they can do business with Intel,'' he added.

Of course, I think it's fair to describe this news, vis-à-vis Intel's archrival AMD, is ''bad.'' Sun has been using AMD chips in its x86 servers for years. Reuters reported earlier that shares of AMD's stock took a hit when the partnership was announced.

Interestingly, Sun isn't abandoning AMD. IDG reports that Sun's former CEO and current chair, Scott McNealy, talked to reporters attending a company conference for U.S. government customers today. McNealy's descriptor: ''choice.'' Sun, he said, is simply providing Solaris on two major x86 processors. ''Some people are Ford folks,'' he said, ''and some people are Chevy folks. We're not going to make them choose.''

Intel's chief exec Paul Otellini said that he was ''thrilled'' about the deal, and well he should be. AMD reportedly snagged about five percent of Intel's share of the chip market last year. This deal gives Intel another way to get it back. ''Solaris is evolving as a mainstream operating system,'' Otellini said. ''It's becoming the mission-critical Unix for Xeon.''

''Mainstream.'' ''Mission-critical.'' Now we're talking adjectives.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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