Customer Confidence, the Opteron

By eweek  |  Posted 2006-07-12 Print this article Print

Business and Intel Chips"> Regarding the innovation, its something Sun continues to stress. At the same time, youre going through a lot of change. How do you keep customer confidence high during times like these? What are you saying to them? Customers are always interested in understanding where the road map is going. The key for them is seeing what the future products hold and where the road map is going, so we obviously spend a lot of time talking to customers about that.
At the same time, you have to remember that a lot of customers have their own issues and challenges, too, so its not like they dont understand. They just want to know whats going on.
What we do is spend a lot of time one-on-one with customers and channel partners, explaining our road mapping so they understand where were going, and thats the important thing for them and thats what we spend a lot of time doing. Thats really no different during a time of change and during a time of stability because were constantly adjusting the road map even in the good times—we come with new technologies and new product ideas. Can you give us an update on the Opteron business? Where do you see that going? We just finished what is our fourth quarter—calendar Q2—and we havent released our results yet, so I really cant comment on that. But through the third quarter, which was calendar first quarter, we continued to grow rapidly. My expectation is that this will continue to go forward on a continued basis because were about to introduce a bunch of new products [including a blade server and four- to 16-way system, announced July 11] as well, so well be appealing to a broader range of customers, with the blades and the larger server and "Thumper." In terms of what difference it makes for Sun, theres not just the hardware revenue. The hardware revenue is just what you see, but theres also services and software and storage, and all of those have been growing right along with the hardware unit revenue. This is actually turning into a good-sized business for Sun. Obviously its smaller than the SPARC business still, but you have to start somewhere, and growing rapidly for seven straight quarters is a good way to start. How much of the Opteron business is with new customers? The majority are customers we already have seen or already know. Thats not necessarily an issue, because were already in virtually all of the Fortune 200-style companies, so in the enterprise, its hard to find a company that doesnt have Sun somewhere in their enterprise. But what is has enabled us to do is go after—even in customers we already know—opportunities, departments and applications that we never could before. With channel partners, we can address Windows, we can address Linux, address high-performance technical computing [and] virtually anything in the Web tier, which is application servers, Web servers. Between Niagara and Galaxy, we can go address those. Whats happened is that while the number of purely new customers is low, the reality is that were a big part of their computer business already, so thats not a surprise. But we have actually been able to [offer] many new applications. I like to very, very broadly define computing into three very general categories. The first category I call "back office." Thats traditional ERP [enterprise resource planning], database and so on. Of course, weve been very strong there for a very long time. The second very broad area I call "Internet infrastructure." This is directly servers, application servers, Web servers and so on. Galaxy and Niagara [servers] are both very strong plays in Internet infrastructure, which is a big growth area for us, and something we used to be very strong in. Over the last five years we werent as strong, but now were very, very strong again. The third broad area I call "technical computing." Thats workstations and high-performance grids and so on, and again, this is a place that Opteron plays very well. In these three broad areas now, the systems portfolio is very strong. Weve been traditionally strong in back-office [workloads], and with UltraSPARC IV+, that hasnt changed. Then Galaxy and Niagara make us very strong in Web services, Web infrastructure and obviously in technical computing. Thats where x64 plays. When customers talk about their applications, we can now not only talk about the back office, we can talk about all three of those with great offers in all three areas. Regarding the issues of power and cooling, how is Sun addressing them in the new Opteron systems that you have come out with? All the way through the design, weve worked very hard to use the most efficient power conversion and power supply techniques, the most efficient fans, the best cooling. These follow on from the Galaxy environment themselves. We use AMD, which is extremely power-efficient, and upcoming SPARC systems will use SPARC chips as well, which are very power-efficient. The focus is on power efficiency, which is, how much work do you get done per watt? For us, its the most important thing. For example, the Sun Blade 8000, which is a big-blade form factor, if you pack it with 10 four-socket blades, youre going to actually consume a fair amount of power, but because its very efficient and has a huge amount of I/O, youll be very efficient on a performance-per-watt basis. AMD has boasted a significant advantage over Intel in power efficiency in recent years. With new chips like "Woodcrest," Intel seems to be getting back into the game where energy and cooling are concerned. Has what Intel has done swayed your mind regarding the use of Intel processors in Sun systems? In the case of our Sun blade and the big 16-way server, these are actually four-socket and up, so Woodcrest is just not applicable to those. What Ive said is that were always evaluating and want to use the best technology thats available. We dont have any concrete plans to offer Woodcrest at this time, but if customers are interested in it in entry-level products, we are certainly open to providing those. 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