Sun’s Opteron chief readying Galaxy of servers

Sun Microsystems Inc.’s chief Opteron server designer, Andy Bechtolsheim, heartily endorsed Advanced Micro Devices Inc.’s current single-core and future dual-core chips as the future of Sun’s volume computing business in a speech before attendees at Sun’s Research and Education 2005 conference Wednesday, as he prepares to overhaul Sun’s current designs featuring the chip.

Forthcoming servers based on AMD’s chip will outperform Intel Corp.’s Xeon server processor in both clusters of two-way servers and larger multiprocessor servers, Bechtolsheim said. He showed the audience a number of benchmark results that compared Sun’s Opteron servers favorably against Intel’s Xeon and Itanium servers for a number of different computing tasks.

“We’re working on a dozen different systems, but I can’t tell you anything specific (about those products),” Bechtolsheim said. He ran down a laundry list of perceived benefits of the Opteron architecture, including its integrated front-side bus structure and 64-bit extensions to the x86 instruction set.

The company once disdained the strategies of companies such as Dell Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. that sell inexpensive servers based on Intel’s chips. But as IT managers have snapped up the low-cost servers, Sun has been forced to embrace the low end of the server world as it tries to stem the losses suffered by its high-end Sparc server business. Bechtolsheim’s expertise in server design is believed to be at the core of Sun’s strategy for differentiating itself among the major server vendors, all of which have much more experience in this category. Sun’s initial Opteron servers have attracted the attention of some IT managers, but Bechtolsheim has been working on a project code-named Galaxy that is intended to dramatically increase their adoption.

Galaxy is a project to build x86 servers with four or more Opteron processors, as well as slim blade servers that use the chip, according to analysts and sources familiar with Sun’s plans. The servers are expected to have more design flair than many of their competitors and use more sophisticated power management and cooling technologies.

Bechtolsheim declined to comment specifically on the Galaxy project in an interview after his presentation at the conference. However, he did promise attendees that Sun’s upcoming servers would focus on power management and provide support for large amounts of memory. The Galaxy servers are also expected to be released around the time that AMD launches its first dual-core Opteron processors, chips with two separate processing engines.

Dual-core processors will allow Sun to nearly double the amount of computing power within the servers it has already designed, Bechtolsheim said. The most powerful dual-core Opteron processors will have the same thermal characteristics as their single-core predecessors, AMD said at its analyst meeting last December.

Bechtolsheim has come full circle at Sun, the company he co-founded with Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Scott McNealy. He invented Sun’s first workstations and oversaw many technology advances developed at Sun until he left the company in 1995 to form Granite Systems, a networking company later acquired by Cisco Systems Inc.

He later founded Kealia to work on advanced server technology, which attracted McNealy’s attention as he searched for a new product that would reinvigorate Sun. Kealia was acquired by Sun in February 2004, and Bechtolsheim has stayed on as chief architect and senior vice president, network systems.

Robert McMillan in San Francisco contributed to this report.

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