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Sun Preaches the Net Effect, Unveils UltraSPARC III

Sun Microsystems (SUNW), the company that has long evangelized the Unix server, has a new sermon: the "Net Effect." And Sun is banking that its flock, staunch long-time supporters and new converts alike, will hearken to the Net Effect''s message and snap up the new workstation and server built around its new -- and long-awaited -- UltraSPARC III chip.

Sun defines the Net Effect as the macro-technological trend driving the exponentially increasing opportunities of the Internet. In other words, the number and types of devices for accessing services over the Internet continue to grow rapidly, in turn fueling the growth of Web-based services like e-commerce, ASP and even Voice-over-IP. This in turn attracts more users who will then purchase more user devices.

"The Net is having an impact on everything -- from computers to cell phones to televisions," said Ed Zander, president and chief executive officer of the Palo Alto company that has ridden the wave of the Internet from start-up to dominator of the server industry. "Network technology is the catalyst for a new wave of opportunities for businesses -- a phenomenon we''re calling the ''Net effect."

At the heart of Sun''s plan for preventing competitors like Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and even Intel from regaining a foothold in the high-end server market and cutting into its market share is the 64-bit UltraSPARC III microprocessor. The company unveiled the UltraSPARC III, along with the Sun Blade 1000 workstation and Sun Fire 280R server (both of which implement the chip), Wednesday morning. Sun also began volume shipments of the chip on Wednesday.

Chinks in the Armor

However, Sun will not roll out its high-end server, StarCat -- successor to the E10000 -- until spring 2001. Its Daktari workgroup servers and Serengeti midrange servers will hit the market between now and then.

This opens a chink in Sun''s armor on which its competitors may be able to capitalize.

HP last week unveiled its HP 9000 Superdome computer two weeks ahead of schedule and loudly proclaimed it to be the world''s most powerful and flexible Unix computing platform. It is IA-64 ready, and Intel believes its long-delayed IA-64 architecture is its springboard back into the high-end server market, which Sun it claims stole from with the birth of the Internet. Like HP, SGI, Unisys, and Compaq Computer have bought into Intel''s vision of the future of Unix processors. Meanwhile, IBM will launch its improved S80 Turbo next month, and Microsoft is making a play for the server operating system market with this week''s rollout of Windows 2000.

But John Shoemaker, executive vice president of the Systems Products Group at Sun, brushed away these concerns.

"Our market position is incredibly strong," he said. "We have continued to build momentum. We have basically become the de facto infrastructure provider for the build-out of the Internet ... We are number one, and we are dramatically increasing the gap between ourselves and our competitors. They''ve made a lot of noise recently, but the bottom line is, when IDC went out and checked the numbers, we kicked their butt."

UltraSPARC''s Rigorous Release Schedule

But Sun is not resting on its laurels. It plans to release UltraSPARC IV in the next 18 to 24 months, although it was originally due in December. Shoemaker even said that there are already hundreds of engineers at work on UltraSPARC V. The company also said it will upgrade the UltraSPARC III with new processor speeds every six months. But businesses with older processors need not fear: Sun has vowed to continue supporting the UltraSPARC II.

The UltraSPARC III, comprised of 29 million transistors, features an embedded memory controller and 9.6 Gigabyte-per-second address bus, support for an 8 MB Error Checking and Correcting (ECC)-protected external cache, and a new error isolation and correction "Uptime Bus." Its 9.6 GB/second peak Processor-to-Interconnect address channel speeds are more than twice as much as previous UltraSPARC chips. In addition, by incorporating the dedicated memory controller, the UltraSPARC III is able to run on a 4.8 GB/second memory pathway.

The chip is now available in 900, 750 and 600 MHz versions, but Sun said the application of advancing process technologies, including copper interconnect, indicate the chip should reach clock speeds of 1.5 GHz when it reaches its full design potential.

"The UltraSPARC III chip is the engine that will power the next generation of Sun systems," Shoemaker said. "Looking back at the early days of SPARC architecture, the SuperSPARC chip kicked off network computing. UltraSPARC I and II processors propelled Internet computing. The UltraSPARC III processor takes Sun to the second generation of dot-com system architectures aimed, as its predecessors, at addressing real problems with real solutions today."

Sun said the UltraSPARC III chip can scale to hundreds of processors sharing a single coherent memory domain with overall system memory size and performance increasing linearly with additional processors. In addition, Sun has made the chip with complete binary compatibility between applications written for previous generations of the architecture.

"All of those thousands and thousands of Solaris applications out there will just run," Shoemaker said. "They don''t have to be compiled. It''s really clean."

In addition to the chip, Sun is touting the first UltraSPARC III high-end workstation and the first UltraSPARC III rack-optimized server.

Still in the Workstation Market

The Sun Blade 1000 workstation doubles the performance, memory and disk capacity, and interconnect speed of its predecessors, according to Sun. It can be equipped with 600, 750 or 900 MHz UltraSPARC III processors, although Sun has taken the position of making only the 600 MHz versions available through eBAY auctions. Shahin Khan, vice president of Product Marketing and Planning at Sun indicated that more Sun products may be put on the block this way, affording customers the option of "dynamic pricing."

The Sun Blade 1000 is tuned for the Solaris 8 operating environment, comes in one or two processor configurations, and has the ability to support mixed processor speeds. It has 8 GB of internal memory capacity and has the first fiber channel storage solution for workstations, enabling increased performance and storage capacity to nearly half a Terabyte. In addition, it comes with free Sun Grid Engine distributed management software.

Sun acquired Grid Engine through its recent acquisition of Gridware. The Grid Engine software is designed to enable job-level load balancing across a network. A master scheduler algorithm matches tasks with available resources and queues multiple requests based on needs and priority. It also provides system administrators with access to users and job status reports. This, in effect, turns every workstation on the network into a node on a "Virtual Compute Farm," and, according to Sun, can push the use of an organization''s computing resources from about 20 percent to as high as 90 percent.

"We''re not even in the workstation market anymore," Khan quipped. "You aren''t just buying a workstation, you''re adding capacity to your network."

In addition to including the Grid Engine software free with every Sun system, the company is offering the Grid Engine software free via its site. The software has been opensourced and is cross-platform compatible.

Khan said the Sun Blade 1000 has an entry price of less than $10,000.

The Sun Fire 280R (the "R" stands for rack-optimized) is a two-way server that delivers enterprise-class features. It can handle up to 8 MB external cache and up to two 750 MHz UltraSPARC III processors. It is expandable up to 8 GB of memory and a Sun StorEdge T3 external storage disk array is included. It uses Fast Sun Fire-plane interconnect technology. Other enterprise-level features include dual, hot-swap power supplies with independent power cords; front accessible, hot-swappable FC-AL disk drives; and Automatic System Recovery and Remote System Control.

Sun has been focusing on remote services for the past 18 months and has now unveiled Sun Remote Services (SRS) Net Connect, a self-service, Web-based tool that gives System Administrators 24-hour remote monitoring, even from a Palm Pilot. SRS Net Connect can be used to turn a system on and off remotely, and gives access to system logs even when the power is off.

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