Sun Plays Catch-Up On Low-Cost Computing - InformationWeek

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Sun Plays Catch-Up On Low-Cost Computing

The vendor will forsake its exclusively Sparc history and dive into the lower-cost end of the computing pool.

Until a few weeks ago, the only products Sun Microsystems offered using competing Intel-based microprocessors were its low-end compact server blades, produced by the Cobalt Networks Inc. unit it acquired in 2000.

That changed Monday when Sun tossed out its own version of Linux and said it will compete on the low end with rack-mounted servers running Intel processors. The new servers will run either Red Hat Linux or Sun's x86 version of Solaris. It's part of Sun's move to leave its exclusively Sparc microprocessor-oriented past behind and join the ranks of low-cost computing.

Low-cost server computing today is a $30 billion market "and we're going to go after it," Sun chairman and CEO Scott McNealy said at the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco.

Sun introduced the Sun Fire V60x and V65x, thin servers that can be stacked 32 high in a refrigerator-sized cabinet. The units are priced at $2,450 and $2,650, respectively, and are equipped with 2.8-GHz or 3.06-GHz Intel Zeon processors, support for up to 12 Gbytes of memory, and six PCI-X slots for plug-in devices.

Sun officials said no comparable server could be found for the price on the current site of Dell Computer, the market leader in Intel system sales.

McNealy was on stage with longtime partner Larry Ellison, chairman and CEO of Oracle, and said the two companies have deepened and extended their 20-year-long partnership. They'll also launch an advertising campaign with the tagline, "Oracle Makes Sun Unbreakable."

All of Oracle's Sun software--its database software and software to automate financial, human resources, supply-chain management, and other company functions--will run on all of Sun's computing platforms.

McNealy also said Sun would no longer go it alone on Linux. It formerly offered a Sun-engineered version of Linux on its Sun Fire blade servers. McNealy said Sun now is in "a collaborative relationship with Red Hat," which will add the latest Java Virtual Machine to its Linux distribution.

The occasion was marked by an admission that Sun had avoided engagement with Intel's x86 architecture in the past. While its own Solaris operating system is 64 bits, the traditional Windows community is 32-bit based, and "we didn't exactly jump on 32-bit computing in the past. I'll admit we waffled on it. When Sun suggested it wouldn't deliver Solaris 9 for x86 at the same time as it would for Sparc, I got a lot of E-mail telling me what an idiot I was," McNealy recounted.

All of that changed as Sun declared its commitment to low-cost computing. At the same time, McNealy chastised critics who have said Sun was conflicted over Linux as a potential undercutter to its Solaris version of Unix. "I love people who say, 'You're not committed to Linux the way IBM is,'" he said. "We're not doing Windows. IBM and HP are."

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