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Sun Beefs Up x86 Support

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Sun Microsystems Monday looked to shape its server strategy with the formation and assembly of the x86 ISV Advisory Board.

Seeing the power of persuasion that fueled its Linux strategy, Sun is assembling an advisory board to help it with its non-SPARC chip policy.

The x86 ISV Advisory Board is an expansion of its Linux ISV Advisory Board created in January. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based network computer maker says the goal is to “provide an open forum for ISV partners to give direct and honest feedback, as well as a chance to align the ISVs’ technology and marketing strategies.”

Sun director x86 market development Richard Finlayson says just like Sun’s “Secret Six” the 18 undisclosed members that make up the new group are a very diverse and very vocal group.

“This is not a rigged panel telling us what we want to hear,” Finlayson told “Quite honestly we have board members that give us a hard time. Realistically, though we have to put our own IP interests first.”

The inaugural “invite only” meeting actually took place during the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo in San Francisco last week at an off-site location. The group is scheduled to convene every six months in conjunction with the Linux show either at its San Francisco or New York venue. While x86 topics de jour are often addressed, Finlayson said the group focuses on technologies germane to Sun’s 12 to 18 month x86-based product road map.

“There are also two professional researchers on the board and they participate and occasionally present topics and suggest customer presentations — somebody that is implementing what we are talking about in more esoteric terms,” Finlayson said.

If the new advisory board is half as successful as its current Linux strategy group, Sun will certainly take to heart what its peers and partners are craving. Such was the success with Sun’s decision to drop its own Linux variation for distributions from Red Hat and, more recently, SuSE. Part of the motivation to continue to support x86 technologies Finlayson said was also spawned from its Linux advisory board.

“One topic we discussed mightily was the decision to support Intel and AMD architectures,” said Finlayson who also pointed out that Xeon, Opteron, Athlon and even Transmeta chips are all expected to play significant roles.

Already, x86 on Sun has gained momentum since the company officially said it would continue development. In May, Sun even announced a new batch of “Enterprise Class x86” environments.

A majority of Sun’s x86 strategy hinges on continually promoting its entry-level servers such as its LX50, and its Sun Fire 60x and 65x series.

Sun Group Marketing Manager Laura Finklestein told the company is already seeing a major uptake of its less expensive models, most commonly selling the products in batches of 20’s, 50’s and 100’s.

“We’ve been working to exploit the low-cost area — sub $10,000,” she said. “A large percentage have gone into compute grids and compute farms. We have also seen the demand pick up as part of aggressive seed programs and success rates are above 50 percent. People are ordering standard configurations and customers are using the increase in memory for Web serving as well as for compute intensive and CAD projects.”

Finklestein admitted Sun’s SPARC boxes are selling better than its x86 configurations but explained that SPARC systems have a well-established support base and that this is all “incremental business” to Sun.

The company said its low-cost product offerings have attracted customer wins from leading companies and organizations such as Best Buy Canada, Dartmouth College, General Dynamics, GetThere (a Sabre Holdings Company), Land Rover, Northeastern University, Notre Dame, Southwest Airlines, Telus, the University of Southern California, West McLaren Mercedes, and Veteran Affairs.

Sun says it also appears on so many customer short lists because from an x86 perspective, the company claims a lower cost than Dell at faster speeds.

What we have seen on the x86 side are customers saying no to Dell because they don’t have support for HPC [high performance computing],” Finklestein said.

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