Sun Microsystems Inc. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc., have had their challenges over the past couple of years, but last week the heads of each Silicon Valley stalwart announced news that could lead to brighter days. Sun, of Santa Clara, Calif., unveiled a major customer win with China, along with innovative new technologies, and AMD, of Sunnyvale, Calif., announced a major new OEM for its 64-bit Opteron processor: Sun. eWEEK Editor in Chief Eric Lundquist and Technology Editor Peter Coffee sat down with Sun founder Scott McNealy and AMD CEO Hector de Ruiz last week at Comdex in Las Vegas to get the inside stories of both announcements.
Scott, with [last weeks] announcement of Sun machines using the Opteron processor, Sun and AMD have the compatibility story while Microsoft [Corp.] and Intel [Corp.] are trying to sell the Itanium great leap forward. Can you tell me the top three reasons why the compatibility story is the one to be telling?
McNealy: Well, you know the x86 stuff better than I do, but many people have tried to do other architectures. Heck, Intel has tried three times over the last 20 years, with the 432, the 860, other things. They keep coming back to compatibility.
I think the [Intel IA-64] strategy was to try to get [Hewlett-Packard Co.] to give up on [Precision Architecture], which they succeeded in doing—but I think today, if youre Hewlett-Packard and you look at Sun and IBM doing Opteron, I would think youve got to go, “Whoops!”
Can you give us some idea of the performance levels youre reaching with the Opteron?
McNealy: Come see our product launches. Our guys are over the moon with excitement.
More than youve seen them in the past?
McNealy: Oh, yeah.
Whats the next range of products that well see built around this in the next 12 months? Give us some milestones to keep our eye on.
McNealy: Well, thats future stuff, but there are two dimensions: You can look at the product side, or you can look at the technology side. As far as the technology goes, were looking at 90-nanometer process technology in the near future, then following shortly to 65 nanometers. Thats the plan.
On the product side, our plans are to continue to build up the performance. Internally we call it K9—but its not a dog, its a system. Well wind up with a range of products and well continue to improve their capability.
The China contract to adopt the Java Desktop System—whats the impact of that?
McNealy: Were talking half a million to a million desktops in the next year, with the Chinese government thinking in the long run in terms of half a billion desktops.
The final decision to adopt JDS—do you think that was driven by performance, or by fear of Microsoft?
McNealy: I think [China] made a decision a long time ago to get something built on more open interfaces, with multiple vendors. They want to keep choice in there and allow a lot of local content, where [China Standard Software Co. Ltd.] can add a lot of value. Its very hard to add local content to the kind of welded-shut, proprietary environments that are dominant today on the desktop. So that was one component … they wanted something based on open source, choice and open interfaces.
The other decision-maker was that same demo that I just did—you saw it, didnt you?
Yes, that was cool—the smart card that fetches your active session and brings it up on whatever workstation youre using, and the 3-D user interface. But the next question is, do you see other countries doing something similar? Is this a big new direction for you guys?
McNealy: I think there are lots of countries out there who are not particularly interested in a U.S. dominance. I should say, a U.S. company dominance. They dont mind U.S. companies dominating if theres choice, but they certainly dont want a single U.S. company dominating the environment.
These guys are going to love that were in there competing against Windows on Opteron because its got to drive down the price of Windows. Too much of the money that could have been spent buying systems is being spent on infrastructure and operating systems software. Were going to change that model, big time.
Hector, this agreement with Sun—would you characterize it as the most important agreement youve achieved for Opteron?
Ruiz: Its a cumulative thing, when you look at the chart—every new one is better. Two of the best enterprise people in the world, IBM and Sun, are now doing Opteron-based products.
What about companies like Novell [Inc.]? Theyve gone out and acquired a whole Linux stack: Are you working with them, and with Red Hat, and …?
Ruiz: Were working with all the people in the Linux community because it turns out that the Opteron environment is very friendly to Linux. We are working with just about everybody.
Youve got to walk now along an interesting line—youve got Sun, youve got Linux, youve got Microsoft, and even during his own keynote Bill Gates several times mentioned Opteron. What did he say, or what would you say—that he was a reluctant fan, or a quiet fan, or …?
Ruiz: In Microsofts future, not only on the enterprise but also on the desktop, they see what we call AMD64 technology as very viable, a great product, a great architecture, and they have made some very strong commitments to have Microsoft products that work with that.
Those are the vendors, but what about on the customer side? Those are the people who are really going to make the final decisions.
Ruiz: I have yet to talk to a customer that does not show a strong interest in Opteron. A lot of them—for example, large financial institutions—they do a lot of their own software, and so the advantages are obvious for them. Theres a little bit of time lag while theyre doing their evaluations, but youre going to see a tremendous momentum.
So youre feeling pretty optimistic?
Ruiz: Very optimistic—the interest from the end user—they really like that.