Sun and Intel have announced a new alliance that will see Sun re-introduce an Intel-based product line.

Although some 70 percent of Solaris users work on Intel-based platforms, Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz said the deal cements the relationship between the two companies.

Officials from both companies then outlined what they called a long-term collaboration to optimise Solaris on Intel processors, as well as some joint research and development. "Solaris is evolving as a mainstream operating system," said Paul Otellini, Intel’s CEO and president, explaining why Intel wants a closer relationship with Sun. "It is becoming the mission-critical Unix for Xeon," he said.

Schwartz said: "It's evident that customers wanted us to work together, and so clearly we wanted to do exactly that."

Intel has agreed to promote Solaris and, in return, Sun will "be building a complete line of Xeon servers as well as workstations," by June. What that holds for the future, "time will tell" said Schwartz.

Sun’s hardware focus has been on its UltraSparc line of servers. That began to change in 2003, when the company announced plans to sell x86 servers based on AMD processors. In 2004, Sun settled anti-trust battles with Microsoft and the settlement agreement included a pledge by both vendors to improve system platform interoperability.

IDC analyst Stephen Josselyn said Sun, like every other vendor selling RISC-based systems in the low end, is "fighting that same battle" against x86. "As we look at this from a Unix perspective, that seems to be the trend - customers are moving away from the RISC/Unix environment and are choosing the more commodity-based x86 platforms."

But Sun is also working on its low-end UltraSparc-based products, in particular Niagara - an eight-core, multi-threaded chip that will be offered as an alternative to x86 platforms. Sun also open-sourced its Solaris platform, and has been especially interested in seeing it used on x86 systems.

Sun is also telling customers that it is continuing to invest in high-end UltraSparc systems. Last week, it announced that it was on schedule to release its multi-core Rock processor, designed for databases and other memory-intensive workloads, by mid-2008.