Sun Microsystems' high-end Starcat server to shine

The high-end server market is expected to heat up significantly next Tuesday as officials for Sun Microsystems unveil the company's much-anticipated Starcat server at a launch event in New York.

Sun's new Starcat server will be the successor to the company's highly successful E-10000 server, according to sources familiar with the company's plans. The Starcat, which is a RISC-based, Unix server platform, will fortify Sun's high-end server offering against increasing competition from servers based on Intel's Window-based, 64-bit Itanium processor platform.

The New York event could also mark the introduction of Sun's new Solaris 9 operating system, sources said. Solaris is Sun's proprietary operating system that runs atop the company's UltraSparc III processor. Industry experts have predicted a 2001 launch window for the new OS.

The first Starcat servers could potentially run as many as 72 UltraSparc III chips at speeds between 750MHz and 900MHz, sources said. Higher internal bandwidth and the ability to partition the server as many as 18 ways are also expected to be features of the initial Starcats, sources said.

Palo Alto, California-based Sun Microsystems is the only major computer maker left not offering products based on Intel's high-end Itanium chip platform. Other major vendors, including Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP), Compaq Computer Corp., Dell Computer Corp., and IBM Corp., have each pledged to offer products along the Itanium chip road map. HP and Compaq are even porting their RISC-based technology over to Itanium in a show of solidarity to the Intel platform.

With Sun the lone holdout of the Itanium platform, experts say the company has its work cut out for it if it is to offer the same wide range of applications and technologies as the ever-broadening Intel-based consortium.

"Sun has never had to confront this type of competition before," said Nathan Brookwood, the principal analyst at Insight 64, based in Saratoga, California. "[Itanium] definitely has the credentials that once it gets established, life will get a whole lot harder for Sun."

However, experience in high-end RISC-based Unix computing is on Sun's side. Sun gobbled up a huge portion of the Unix market in the mid and late 1990's and still owns a commanding share of the Unix market, according to International Data Corp.

Sun is the number one Unix vendor in the world by server operating environment revenue shipments with just more than a 40 percent market share, according to IDC. IBM, which unlike HP and Compaq will continue to offer both RISC and Itanium products, holds a 12 percent share of the Unix market.

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Dan Neel

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