AMD Signs Up Sun for Opteron

Sun announces plans to build servers using AMD's 64-bit Opteron chip.

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. has landed two of the top four systems makers to build servers using its 64-bit Opteron processors. The next challenge: Get a broad base of enterprise customers to make the switch from Intel Corp. machines.

Sun Microsystems Inc. last week announced at Comdex in Las Vegas plans to build servers using Opteron, an x86 chip that enables both 32-bit and 64-bit computing. AMD signed up IBM in a similar deal last spring.

AMD is positioning Opteron as a lower-cost alternative to chip maker Intels Xeon chips, for 32-bit processing, and Itanium chips, for 64-bit processing.

Sun, based in Santa Clara, Calif., announced at the show that it will roll out two- and four-way Opteron-based Sun Fire servers throughout next year, using them as vehicles to extend its reach into the low-cost x86 space and compete with Intel-based systems running Windows. In addition, Sun and AMD will work together to expand the number of systems to include some using eight or more Opterons.

IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., last April at AMDs Opteron launch unveiled the IBM eServer 325 system, an Opteron-based server aimed at the high-performance computing space, rather than commercial enterprises. IBM early next year will introduce an Opteron-powered workstation, and a spokesman said the company has plans for the chip that officials are not ready to disclose.

But whether having that support will translate into greater customer adoption of the Opteron remains to be seen. Many enterprises running x86 systems are just beginning to investigate 64-bit computing, and looming is Intel, with its 64-bit Itanium chip and the massive financial resources its using to back it.

Still, AMD officials argue that there are key benefits to the Opteron, particularly lower costs and the chips ability to run 32-bit and 64-bit applications equally well. The latter gives users a single platform from which to work and an easier migration path from 32-bit to 64-bit computing, they said.

Intel had hoped to improve the performance of 32-bit applications on the Itanium for some users through the inclusion of the IA-32 Emulation Layer for Windows in Microsoft Corp.s operating system. But Microsoft delayed the release of a Windows service pack slated to include the technology until the second quarter of next year. That delay could encourage some IT departments to try Opteron systems, said IT manager Jevin Jensen, director of technical services for Mohawk Industries Inc.

Jensen said he may test IBMs eServer 325 system but would be more interested if the company moved the Opteron upstream.

"If they announce Opteron support for the x440 or x445 platform, then Id be very interested," said Jensen, in Calhoun, Ga.

Interland Inc. has yet to deploy 64-bit systems but is beginning to investigate them. The Atlanta-based hosting company runs a number of Intel-based xSeries systems from IBM and uses few, if any, AMD products, said John Lally, director of product management. Which path the company chooses will be decided over the next year, Lally said.

AMD signs up tier-one OEMs

Suns Opteron road map

  • Sun Fire servers with two or four Opterons due early next year
  • Sun Fire servers with eight or more Opterons due in the future
  • Sun tunes 64-bit Solaris for the Opteron

IBMs Opteron road map

  • The eServer 325 high-performance computing server available now
  • Opteron-powered workstation due next year

"Sixty-four bit is going to become an increasingly important part of our computing model," Lally said, adding that Interland officials will begin "working with partners like Microsoft and Red Hat [Inc.] and IBM to start planning together the right model for us. ... Reverse compatibility to 32-bit is definitely an issue to us, but were really taking a wait-and-see [approach] to see how that plays out."

Sun is counting on customers to run Linux or its Solaris operating system on the Opteron boxes. The company will ship a version of 64-bit Solaris that can run on Opteron-powered systems by late next summer. Currently, customers can run Solaris on the Opteron in 32-bit mode. Sun and AMD, of Sunnyvale, Calif., will create an iForce Partner Program for software vendors and developers who are writing or porting applications to Solaris. The program will include a developer resource kit.

AMD is looking to sell not only to the domestic market. The company has been working hard to sell systems in China, said AMD Senior Vice President Dirk Meyer. He said he hoped AMD could gain more traction in that country along with Sun, which last week reached an agreement to sell the Chinese government at least 1 million seats of its Java Desktop System.

"I have no doubt this partnership [with Sun] will help us get some traction there," Meyer said.