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Sun and Intel go crazy over Solaris on Xeon

Lonesome dove makes an old friend

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Sun Microsystems once again has eyes for Intel, and this time it's serious.

According to the street's word, Sun and Intel will announce a partnership Monday centered around Sun slotting Xeon chips into its servers and Intel backing Solaris x86. Such a relationship would mark Sun's most significant Intel embrace to date. It would also provide Intel with an ample AMD-bashing opportunity.

Word of the Sun/Intel union started to leak last week courtesy of a Bank of America analyst's research note.

"Our checks indicate that Sun Microsystems will begin using Intel's Xeon processors (Woodcrest) for its fast growing x86/x64 server line," the analyst wrote. "We believe that development is currently taking place at the engineering level, with expectations for volume production sometime in late 2007."

Sun and Intel have flirted in the past. Following its $2bn acquisition of Cobalt, Sun briefly sold a line of Intel-based appliances and low-end servers. It later killed that kit and went into an x86 hiatus before emerging with a brand new line of servers based on AMD's Opteron chips. Sun stood as AMD's most vocal backer, and the lone AMD-only Tier 1 server vendor.

No more.

Intel and Sun also once fumbled around creating a version of the Solaris operating system for the Itanium processor. That deal fell apart due to bad blood between the companies – one of many shared spats.

Solaris appears to be the key element in Sun's Intel decision. Intel will apparently help Sun tune Solaris x86 for its chips. Sun likely sees this as a major OEM win and a way to legitimize further its OS for Intel and AMD-based servers, which is far less popular than the same OS for Sun's own SPARC chips.

This partnership was inevitable despite past disagreements between Sun and Intel and their continued high-end chip rivalry. Sun takes its x86 business seriously and needs the Xeon chips to compete against HP, IBM, Dell and others.

As a result of all this, Sun will need to do some major tweaking to its servers – a task left to Sun co-founder and Xeon critic Andy Bechtolsheim's team. ®

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