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6/8/2010
04:28 PM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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Oracle Seen Axing AMD Opteron On Sun Servers

Word has been swirling now for a couple of months that Oracle is going to abandon the use of AMD's Opteron processor on future Sun servers. (Oracle has owned Sun Microsystems since January.) This talk started with an Australian blog post in early May. While Oracle hasn't confirmed the report, it hasn't issued a denial either. Here's what I found out direct from the horse's mouth.

Word has been swirling now for a couple of months that Oracle is going to abandon the use of AMD's Opteron processor on future Sun servers. (Oracle has owned Sun Microsystems since January.) This talk started with an Australian blog post in early May. While Oracle hasn't confirmed the report, it hasn't issued a denial either. Here's what I found out direct from the horse's mouth.By now, the "Oracle is bagging AMD" chatter has been repeated so many times it's become received wisdom. Which doesn't mean it's not true.

The Register, which is often ahead of the curve in reporting unconfirmed tech news, posted a story on May 27 headlined "Oracle kills AMD Opteron on Sun iron." It was sourced to an unquoted "person familiar with the company's server plans."

I started tracking this story after a May 5 blog surfaced on the Australian IT analyst site IDEAS International . Gary Burgess wrote that he'd attended a local Oracle event, the purpose of which was to lay out the company's plans for its recently acquired Sun Microsystems product lines.

Wrote Burgess -- and here's the money quote which launched the AMD chatter -- "It appears that the company may focus on Sun x86 servers using only the Intel processor architecture."

This would seem to end the argument and make an open-and-shut case that Oracle/Sun is going forward on the x86 front solelu with the servers based on Intel's new Nehalem EX. (Oracle has recently debuted an 8-core Nehalem-EX enterprise server.)

The challenge, though, was getting Oracle to confirm this. On April 30, before the IDEAS post hit, I had a lengthy interview with Oracle's top Sun server exec. Indeed, John Fowler, who is current executive vice president of systems at Oracle, was formerly executive vp of Sun's systems group. So he would be the guy to speak to this.

Since the Australian roadshow statement hadn't come to light, I didn't press Fowler on the AMD question. I was more focused on the general question of Sun's commitment to x86 servers period, in light of its stated interest in positioning Sun's UltraSPARC systems as ideal platforms upon which to run enterprise apps in general and Oracle's software in particular.

However, I did ask the routine and obvious question of whether both AMD and Intel would be remain Oracle's x86 server mix going forward. (Both vendors have new server processor upgrades moving out in the marketplace.) Here's what Fowler said:

"In the enterprise space, we're making sure that we have the best possible performance for enterprise applications. Today we have both Intel and AMD platforms with commonality between them. And we'll continually evaluate whether we use Intel or whether we use AMD for different platforms. What you'll see coming up is Nehalem EX level platforms; that'll be the next wave of platforms."

In retrospect, this seems to me to be a carefully worded answer. Parsed, it can certainly be interpreted to say that they're not going to be using Opteron going forward. Looking at it in a more lawyer-like fashion -- though, as they say on Slashdot, IANAL -- at best this evinces a lack of commitment to AMD's new Magny-Cours version of Opteron, with a concomitant endorsement of Nehalem.

Interestingly, while this doesn't settle the subject for good, it's the only public comment lately from Oracle that's appeared anywhere which at all touches on the matter.

In the past few weeks, I've pinged Oracle a bunch of times requesting clarification and follow up. I've heard nothing in response. So add that to your triangulation equation.

As for AMD, they also decline to comment.

In closing, I should add that, while Oracles non-application of Magny-Cours is interesting, it won't be a determinant of the success of AMD's new server processors one way or another. That's because the sales volume of Oracle's Sun servers equipped with AMD processors are a very low fraction of the overall server market, on the order of a single percentage point.

I will have more from my interview with Fowler in an upcoming Server Den column.

What do you think? Does it sound like Oracle is dropping AMD? Leave a comment below or e-mail me directly at alex@alexwolfe.net.

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Alex Wolfe is editor-in-chief of InformationWeek.com.

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