Sun Microsystems plans to begin shipping in 2004 two new servers based on Advanced Micro Devices's (AMD) Opteron processors, Sun's CEO Scott McNealy said during a Comdex keynote address in Las Vegas on Monday.

The servers are part of an alliance the companies have been planning for the past year, according to Neil Knox, Sun's executive vice president of volume systems products. Under terms of the agreement, Sun will work with AMD to produce a range of Opteron systems, beginning with two- and four-way servers that will begin shipping in 2004.

McNealy provided no details of the new Sun Fire servers, which are 1U (4.4 cm high) and 3U (13.3 cm) in size and which he and AMD CEO Hector Ruiz showed on stage. But McNealy did say that developers would be able to get early access to the new servers later this year.

The Sun endorsement is a major step for the 64-bit Opteron processor, said Ruiz. "It validates the fact that this technology is sound," said McNealy. Sun follows IBM as the second major server vendor to commit to selling Opteron systems, which AMD launched in April of this year.

While Sun may be ahead of competitors like Dell and Hewlett-Packard in embracing Opteron, McNealy admitted that Sun was late to the x86 (Intel instruction set) game. "We (missed out). I wish a heck of a long time ago we'd done the strategy we did with Intel," he said, "That low end x86 product line is now the fastest-growing part of our computer product line in the data center."

Sun was not only late to market with x86 products, the company also precipitated a user revolt in January 2002, when it announced plans to terminate its Solaris for x86 operating system. Nine months later it reversed that decision.

McNealy argued that Sun was making its commitment to the x86 architecture clear. "We nailed this one on the button," he said. "I think this will help our x86 sales because it says we're serious."