Sun Mulls its Options As It Readies Opteron Boxes
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
Key executives responsible for the Sun-AMD alliance that will see Sun Microsystems this year deliver servers based on Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron processors and supporting Solaris and Linux were on hand at LinuxWorld to sort-of answer questions about exactly the kind of machines Sun might bring out and how they might get built. Both Sun and AMD were, of course, cagey about their exact plans.
Kevin Knox, director of enterprise development at AMD, was brought on stage during a question and answer session and explained that the relationship between the two companies was bigger than just putting out a machine or two. "This is not a spot product release into the marketplace," he said. "It's about software and technology. It is a long-term strategic relationship, not just Sun introducing a server using an AMD processor." Knox said that specifically, Sun and AMD engineers would be working together to improve the HyperTransport high-speed memory and I/O interconnection electronics that AMD has woven in to the Opterons as a means to glue multiple processors together into NUMA-enabled single system images and to give it high-speed I/O access to the outside world. He even suggested that Sun might be incorporating HyperTransport into Sun's Sparc-based RISC/Unix servers. Sun has been a member of the HyperTransport consortium that steers this interconnect technology for a few years, so it could have opted to use HyperTransport without opting for Opteron. As Cray is demonstrating with its "Red Storm" 40 teraflops Linux cluster, which is based on Opterons running Linux and a mesh of high-speed interconnection designed by Cray that makes use of HyperTransport links to the processors. Sun might be thinking of how HyperTransport can mesh with its own "Wildcat" high speed system interconnect for supercomputing.
Knox went on to say that he believes that there is pent-up demand for AMD servers. "The issue has been that enterprise accounts will only buy from tier one suppliers," he explained, and Sun, like IBM and maybe HP if you believe the recent rumors, are all tier one players that could drive Opteron sales. Knox said that there was a rebound in IT spending under way, and that spending was most brisk for entry servers and storage--the kind of boxes that Sun and AMD will first deliver.
In an interview, Knox said that Sun and AMD would roll out a two-way Opteron server in the first half of 2004. He also indicated that a four-way machine was in the works and that they were also exploring desktop machines (meaning workstations and less-powerful PC-class clients). As for where Sun might get its AMD machines, Knox said that the two partners were looking at all the options. Sun could make them, of course, but Knox said that the Newisys subsidiary of Sanmina-SCI as well as Celestica, which both have Opteron server designs, were also possible as OEM suppliers for the Sun boxes.
The Opteron processor supports Linux in both 32-bit and 64-bit modes right now. Solaris for X86 is supported on the processor, but only in 32-bit mode. A full 64-bit version of Solaris is due in mid-2004. And while Sun doesn't sell Windows--at least not yet--Microsoft is expected to get a production version of Windows 2003 out the door for the Opterons in the summer, too.