Sun Shines With $400M Workstation Deal

Sun Microsystems scored a major coup with the sale of over 27,000 Sun Ultra 20 workstations to the Mexican Ministry of Education. The $400 million deal includes five years of service and support.

Systems have already begun shipping and are expected to be completed this spring. The aim is provide a computer in every fifth and sixth grade public school classroom in the majority of Mexico’s provinces, according to Rajesh Shakkarwar, senior marketing director of workstation products for Sun’s network systems group.

The Ultra 20s are based on AMD’s 64-bit Opteron process and include Sun’s Solaris operating system. But, ironically, the main OS used will be from Sun’s rival, Microsoft. Shakkarwar said a systems integrator is working separately with the Ministry to provide Windows and educational software with each system. The Ultra 20s are also certified to run Linux.

While Microsoft goes along for the ride, and whatever 27,000+ licenses of Windows is worth, it’s a huge win for Sun and a feather in the cap of partner AMD.

Sun has sold workstations based on its Sparc chip architecture since it started doing business 24 years ago. But a deal with AMD two years ago, which Shakkarwar helped negotiate, added AMD processors to the mix. The AMD-based servers and workstations have been among Sun’s strongest sellers.

The deal with Mexico is the largest educational deal for Sun with any Latin American country to date. The computers represent a key part of the Education Ministry’s national Enciclomedia project which will get computer technology into classrooms for the first time. Shakkarwar said Sun beat out several competing bids, but he was not at liberty to say what other companies competed in the process that began a few months ago.

Introduced in July of last year, the Sun Ultra 20 is priced starting at $895 for a base configuration that ranges as high as $2,395 depending on storage, memory and other specs. Shakkarwar said Mexico is ordering a configuration about in the middle of that range, and the systems will be about the same for every school. There are 15 – and 17-inch monitors being offered and a few other minor differences. Also, the schools will use electronic whiteboards and projectors, so that information can be shared and used by more than one student at a time.

“The Ultra 20 is an amazing product that we designed from the ground up to optimize performance and price,” said Shakkarwar. Sun is not known as a big provider of computer systems to middle schools, but this deal is a showcase that may gain the company a bigger foothold in Latin America and other countries.

“Working with world-class partners like Sun to contribute to the educational development in Mexico and other high-growth markets continues
to be a focus for AMD,” said Kevin Knox, vice president of worldwide commercial
business at AMD, in a statement. “This latest win further highlights the momentum we
are seeing for AMD64 solutions globally across commercial organizations and
in the classrooms.”

AMD has a stated goal of helping connect 50 percent of the world’s population to the Internet by the year 2015.

Shakkarwar said the deal was virgin territory for Sun, where its computers will be going to schools that never had computers before.

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