Sun Looks To Intel To Boost Workstation Sales

Sun Microsystems today announced its first Intel-based desktop workstation computers in years, powered by Intel’s Core 2 Duo and Quad processors. They fill out the Sun workstation lineup, which includes SPARC and AMD Opteron-based workstations as well.

For those who remember Sun’s i386 line from the late 1980s, the new Sun Ultra 24 workstation should look somewhat familiar. The case design and internal layouts are both very similar. Internally, though, there’s a huge difference. The workstations come with 512MB to 8GB of memory, a Core 2 Duo, Quad or Extreme processor and an nVidia Quadro graphics card.

The workstations will come with Solaris and all of Sun’s developer tools, but it will also support Red Hat, SuSe and eventually Ubuntu Linux. Ubuntu is currently being qualified for the hardware. Also, Sun will support Windows Vista, XP and Server 2003.

“We’re not shying away from Windows at all. We expect a sizable amount of our business to go out targeted to the Wintel market,” Brian Healy, group marketing manager for workstation products, told He added he expects there will be a lot of dual booting between operating systems.

Sun has always been in the SPARC-based workstation market but re-entered the x86 market last year with Opteron processors. Healy acknowledges Intel’s dominance of the workstation space. “What we’re doing is going after where the biggest chunk of that space is, which is Intel processor-based systems,” he said.

It’s not a big market, but workstations are high margin; around 30 percent, vs. the two or three percent margin in desktop PCs, according to Lloyd Cohen, director of worldwide market analysis at IDC.

Sun Ultra 24

The Sun Ultra 24.

Source: Sun Microsystems

Sun’s piece of the pie, though, is a sliver. IDC estimates that in the second quarter, Dell shipped 304, 000 workstations for 45.6 percent of the market. HP shipped 231,000 units for 34.6 percent of the market. And Sun? Just 13,000 units for 1.9 percent of the market.

Still, Cohen figures the Intel-based hardware can only help. “Anything is better than the volume shipments that they are doing,” he said. “One of the issues was the AMD processors had difficulty in competing with the Intel processors in terms of performance, so Sun was hindered a bit by that. This should help Sun, but everything is relative.”

Healy thinks Sun’s name and long workstation heritage will help carry the day for sales. “A lot of what we bring is a history of who we are and how long we’ve been in this space. We have a huge installed base of RISC Unix out there, but the performance we’re seeing out of these new boxes is just head and shoulders above the last generation workstations. So we want to go back to our customer base and say here’s a way to migrate forward to the latest and greatest hardware and software,” he said.

Cohen said Sun is selling RISC machines pretty much to just its existing customer base, but the Intel machines could help it expand that market. “They can really only gain from this. They are now on a level footing with Dell and HP and it can only help them,” he said.

Available now, the Ultra 24 is priced ranging from $995 to $2,300 depending on configuration.

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