Sun Gets Serious About Industry Standard Servers

Sun and Intel find common ground around Xeon-based servers and the Solaris OS.

Sun Microsystems with Jonathan Schwartz at the helm is a very different company than it was five years ago. Proprietary software is being converted to Open Source, gone are the hardline stances of Scott McNealy, and gone too it seems is Sun and Intel’s war of words and inability to work together. The companies announced this week that they had put their differences behind them with Sun planning to introduce Xeon-based servers and workstations and Intel lending a hand in promoting OpenSolaris.

Sun’s new Xeon-based product line will feature both servers and workstations with one-to-four processor configurations. There are also plans to develop servers with greater than four processors specifically for Solaris. The companies did not announce when the first servers would be available, however there is some talk that an announcement could come as early as the Intel Developer Forum Japan in April.

Continuing Sun’s push last week to boost Solaris’ visibility, as a part of the agreement Intel will tout Solaris as a “mainstream,” “enterprise class, mission critical” OS through a marketing and OEM deal. A tall order considering the current Solaris market share, but the real story here is that these two companies are talking to one another at all.

Sun’s unwillingness to work in any meaningful way with Intel goes back a great many years. As vocal as Dell has been in their support for Intel by holding off on releasing an AMD line of machines until last year, Sun under Scott McNealy was twice as loud in deriding Intel’s processors. Sun took this tactic to an extreme, tending to focus on their proprietary architectures until embracing the x86 platform with a line of industry standard servers in 2004 when AMD processors were riding the early wave of popularity that surrounded Opteron.

You have to applaud Sun’s willingness to open it’s software, but it’s clear they’re still working out the business model around that initiative. Offering Intel Xeon-based machines, on the other hand, is clearly an excellent idea and directly in line with what today’s customers are looking for: standard-based solutions.

And it marks a clear move away from Scott McNealy’s “…it’s mankind versus Microsoft” rhetoric that always made me think that Sun didn’t sell industry standard servers because you could install Windows on them. Sun’s finally learned that it’s not just about open interfaces. It’s about open everything.

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