Sun eyes home users with Sun Ray update

Sun Microsystems on Monday will update its Sun Ray platform with new workstations and server software that company executives believe will give the thin client devices a foothold among home users.

With version 3.0 of the Sun Ray Server Software, the accompanying thin client can now be used securely over an Internet connection, an option that Sun believes will make the Sun Ray appealing as a platform for branch offices, small business users, and eventually even home users.

"Basically, it was a LAN product; now we're saying it's a WAN product," said Mason Uyeda, a product marketing manager with Sun.

Because the Sun Ray can now be used over any broadband Internet connection, Sun is hoping the devices will now appeal to a new set of customers: telecommunications providers looking to provide a low-cost client for home users that is easy to support.

In 2005, Sun expects to begin shipping a new version of the Sun Ray server that will include support for Lucent Technologies's Voice Over IP software, which will give carriers the opportunity to sell a centrally managed telecommunication and computing device to small business users and perhaps eventually even non-business users, Uyeda said.

Sun is in discussions with more than a dozen telecommunications service providers and expects some pilot projects to roll out in 2005, a company spokesman said. He declined to say which providers were looking at the system.

First developed in 1999, the Sun Ray was Sun's entry into a thin client market that largely failed to emerge. Sales of the Sun Ray have been in the hundreds of thousands, Sun says, but even the company's top executives admit it has not lived up to expectations.

"Has Sun Ray reached the volumes that we desired originally? No, it has not," said John Loiacono, the senior vice president of Sun's software division.

However, the company is working with customers on some large-scale Sun Ray deployments, Loiacono said, which are expected to be rolled out over the next year. "We believe that this is the year that we're really going to see the Sun Ray emerge as a volume platform," he said.

Outside of Sun, which has deployed approximately 30,000 Sun Rays internally, the largest deployments of the thin client devices to date have involved "thousands" of terminals, Uyeda said.

The new Sun Ray 170 client will have a larger, 17-inch monitor and come with a projector port for use in a conference room. It sells for US$1,049. The server software is priced at US$99 per client. Both products will be available on Monday.

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