John Fowler, Sun's executive vice president of systems, spoke with Patrick Thibodeau last week about the company's new alliance with Intel. Excerpts from the interview follow:
What kinds of improvements can users expect in how Solaris operates on Intel-based boxes?
There are several things. Taking advantage of advanced power management features, we'll work directly with Intel to reduce power utilization of servers at different workloads. The second thing we're going to work with them on is I/O performance. Intel platforms have some I/O acceleration features, and we can integrate changes in Solaris that greatly improve the efficiency and the performance of I/O on those platforms. The third area that we can work on is reliability. Solaris has this feature called self-healing, which is the ability to properly handle problems in the hardware and then continue to operate. Together with Intel, we can make [that feature] work particularly well on Intel platforms so we have really high degrees of reliability.
When will those improvements appear?
Where most of these changes will appear is actually in OpenSolaris first. And they'll start appearing during calendar 2007. It's basically going to be a continuous thread of innovation, not just some big bang.
Are you going to try to create Intel-based systems that can scale up to a large number of processors?
We're going to collaborate on greater than four-way systems. And that can be a whole bunch of different activities -- making sure Solaris works well on them, as well as designing systems around them. Beyond that, I'm not going to go into any details of what exactly we're doing, because I don't want to disclose any future product plans at this time.
Until 2005, Sun sold some Intel-based low-end servers. Why did you discontinue those products and switch to AMD for x86 processors?
Before [Intel] came out with Woodcrest, their products were not at all performance-competitive with AMD's. Because we were just starting out in the [x86] business, we decided to concentrate our engineering and marketing resources around AMD, and that's been very successful for us. Now we're at a stage where adding Intel is a very logical thing to do -- especially since their technology has improved dramatically.
Intel wants to expand the reach of x86systems in enterprise markets where Sun is a big player, including financial services and telecommunications. It sounds as if it's trying to take some of your UltraSparc market. They're always going to want to do that. But the reality of it is, if Intel is going to take my UltraSparc market, I'd rather it be in the product I sell as opposed to somebody else's.
Do you see the development of Intel-based servers that can compete with your high-end UltraSparc systems as a result of this agreement?
There's nothing presently planned here that's at that same scale. Obviously, in the lower parts of the [server] range, they've always been competitive with UltraSparc, and that doesn't seem to matter. Sparc [hardware] still does quite well.