Sun Microsystems Hits Midrange Market Segment

Sun Microsystems Inc. Wednesday unveiled its long-awaited line of midrange
servers, which carries forward the Sun Fire brand, in what the Palo Alto,
Calif.-based company has been touting for the last month as one of the largest technology unveilings in its
history.

Although the so-called “midframe” line is intended to complement its
top-end line of 64-processor E10000 products (as well as the successor
StarCat), the Sun Fire product line quickly bridges the gap between servers
and traditional mainframes in both computing performance and price — quite
a contrast to the Sun
Fire 280R server
announced last fall. As such, CTOs and CIOs have
another weapon at their disposal to scale up their corporate networks in the
most cost-efficient manner.

The product line consists of the Sun Fire 3800, 4800 server, Sun Fire
4810 rackable server and the high-end Sun Fire 6800. It ranges in price from
$75,000 to $500,000 depending on the configuration. The line has the
capacity for up to 24 processors and is based on the UltraSPARC III
processor, Sun’s third-generation 64-bit chip. It, of course, operates on
the Solaris 8 environment. (You, perhaps, expected NT?!?)

“It’s more bad news for the competition,” Scott McNealy, Sun Microsystems
chairman and CEO, said in a prepared statement.

Ironically, not all competitors considered Sun’s announcement to be such
bad news. Because of the ever-increasing need for more and more database
applications, Sun’s move to higher-end, higher-performance computing appears
to be a logical step in the right direction. That, along with the marketing
prowess of Sun behind the push into high performance computing, should
empower the developer community to get the maximum performance out of those
high-end machines, according to one engineer at Unisys.

“There are not too many applications around that can scale that much
[along with the infrastructure build-up],” said Martin Wenger, systems
consultant in Unisys’s Technology Services. “Only a few applications can
take advantage of processor power like [Microsoft’s} SQL Server.”

It should be noted, however, that Unisys ES7000 servers (priced between
$200,000 and $800,000 for up to 32 processors) run on the Unix and Microsoft
Windows environments, not Solaris. It should also be noted that, to coincide
with the product launch, Sun declared a new performance record of
16,016 concurrent users, with an average response time of 1.011 seconds on
the new Sun Fire(TM) 6800 server using the Oracle Applications Standard
Benchmark.

To be sure, Wenger still brings up the valid issue that the performance
of any hardware greatly depends on the applications that are designed to run
on it.

“We believe that we [Unisys] have the right hardware and technology to
continue making steps forward into the enterprise environment” despite the
current U.S. economic slowdown. “Now it’s up to the application developers
to tune their applications to get the maximum performance out of systems
that we have.”

To enhance performance, Sun did build an innovative feature into the new
Sun Fire servers. With the so-called “Sun Fireplane interconnection” or
backplane, administrators can partition the full production environment into
separate
domains to improve on things like fault tolerance and uptime.

Although Sun claims this feature is new to this class of system, it is
remarkably similar to Unisys’s so-called “affinity groups” on its Cellular Multiprocessing (CMP) architecture, which allows an
administrator to dynamically allocate processing power based on the
enterprise’s needs.

At the heart of Sun’s product introduction is its plan to fight off
aggressive competitors like Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp. and even Intel
Corp. from regaining a foothold in the high-end server market. Sun still
plans to fortify its product offerings on the high end with a successor to
the E10000; however, competitors also plan to follow suit.

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