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If you're part of Sun Microsystems' $80bn customer base, look out. The company today kicked off a new partner program for its Opteron servers that it hopes will see salespeople being more aggressive than ever with x86 kit.

Sun has started the Solar Edge Elite program for its numerous channel partners. The new scheme offers free Opteron servers to partners that can move certain amounts of gear and free training. Sun is hoping that the program will help it sell Opteron servers into existing customer accounts instead of just targeting x86 accounts currently owned by the likes of Dell, HP and IBM.

During a conference call with its partners, Sun acknowledged that Opteron server sales might not carry the same margins as the SPARC sales. Sun staffers, however, encouraged partners to sweeten deals by working subscription pricing models that include both hardware and software. Sun has been experimenting with distributing the cost of Opteron server/software bundles over three years and hopes partners may be able to extend this model.

Sun, in tandem with its partners, hopes to sell 40,000 Opteron-based servers over the next year to its customer base. It has targeted a set list of customers in the EDA, mechanical/engineering and commercial markets as key opportunities.

The Solar Edge Elite program is the fourth such plan in Sun's Elite partner line. Existing programs are in place for partners that make large data center, storage and software sales. Partners that meet the new Opteron requirements will get a free Opteron server for every 25 systems they sell. Partners that meet even higher levels of requirements will receive both a two-processor V20z and four-processor V40z server for every 25 systems they sell. This plan runs through April, after which Sun will change the offer to one free box for every 100 sold.

Sun will also give partners access to large numbers of demo systems, if they have a big potential deal depending on such a trial.

Overall, these new sales tactics from Sun are part of its effort to become a serious player in the x86 market. Sun is betting that it can ship large numbers of Opteron boxes with both Solaris x86 and Linux. These types of sales would be key to revitalizing Sun's stagnant server business, which has been almost solely focused on Solaris/SPARC systems.

Sun executives made no mention of when an expected new line of Opteron servers will be available or how they might be included in the Solar Edge Elite program. We'll be sure to keep on pressing for this information. ®

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