New processors, servers to spur Sun's Net Effect

Claiming to still be ahead of the competition after a nearly 3-year delay in shipping the new chip, Sun Microsystems ushered in its era of the UltraSPARC III with the debut of Sun Blade 1000 workstation and the Sun Fire 280R server -- the first hardware iterations to come from its second generation of 64-bit RISC hardware, officials said.

"I think we all expected them to make this announcement in [earlier]," said Yoshiyuki Kinoshita, an equity analyst with Nomura International, in New York, who was on hand for the Net Effect event.

The delay in shipping the UltraSPARC III as well as the nature of Sun's Solaris operating system and hardware designs, have caused a great deal of frustration among current Sun customers who have had little option other than wait for Sun, according to one analyst.

"[Sun customers] are locked in to Sun, and if they can't get the performance they're looking for because UltraSPARC III is late, then they have to wait until Sun gets its stuff together," said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst at Insight 64.

Brookwood said that even if Sun customers opted to change over to another vendor, like neighbouring Hewlett-Packard, they would not benefit because "by the time those customers get everything compiled from Sun over to HP, Sun will generally have their act together."

Why Sun continues in this direction, Brookwood said, has to do with one of Sun's core beliefs that it is giving its customers what they want.

"If you talk to Sun, you will hear from Sun that their customers really like the vendor doing everything, and that is the way the high-end market has worked and continues to work," said Brookwood, adding that "Sun will say that their customers don't want a system that has a chip made from Intel, and that is put together in a box built by a second company, and so on."

"And the real test going forward is whether customers really believe that or if they want to have choices. I believe the latter will be the case, and for Sun to continue to focus on a proprietary environment will be a serious problem for them," said Brookwood.

Responding to this, one Sun official said that the company's Java-based products offer the development tools which allow Sun systems to operate in mixed environments.

"Our strategy is by no means an all Sun world, we acknowledge that customers have heterogeneous environments. We have Solaris PC Net Link software to let customers run NT services under Solaris, and the foundation development environments with Java are all part of Sun's open environment," said Nancy Weintraub, the director of outbound marketing system products at the company.

Summing up today's hardware announcements from Sun, the Sun Blade will offer CPUs with speeds ranging from 750MHz to 900MHz now, and future versions are expected to offer speeds greater than 1GHz, officials said. The new platform will run the Solaris 8 brand of Unix, which promises backward compatibility with applications that ran on previous versions of the operating system.

For an entry-level price tag of $US9995, the Sun Blade 1000 offers an 18GB hard drive, 512MB of memory, 8MB of L2 cache, and Creator3D Series 3 graphics. In contrast, the Sun Blade set at 900MHz is priced at $US19,995, and offers 1GB of memory and a 36GB drive. This platform can be had with as much as 8GB of memory and two 36GB drives.

Sun is also offering the Sun Blade in a 600MHz configuration that will be sold via an eBay auction to US bidders who are likely to be high-end PC users, Sun officials said.

The Sun Blade offerings will include the Grid Engine load balancing software, available via downloads, which will help users set up a Sun Virtual Compute Farm system, officials said. The new workstations will also support multiple speed CPUs.

The entry-level price for a low-end Sun Fire 280R server will be $US10,000. But Sun's initial offering will be an $US89,995 configuration that includes dual 750MHz CPUs, 8GB of memory, dual Fibre Channel (FC-AL) drives, dual power supplies and 327GB of Sun StorEdge T3 external disk storage. Both versions will available later this year, officials said.

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