Sun hopes to win back Wall St. with new servers

Sun Microsystems Inc. is expected to unveil the first members of its long-awaited "industry-standard" 64-bit server family at its quarterly product rollout in New York Monday. Formerly code-named Galaxy, the Sun Fire X2100, X4100 and X4200 servers represent the company's bid to woo customers, particularly the financial industry sector, away from rival server vendors Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Inc.

"We're entering a new marketplace and will grow very fast," Larry Singer, vice president of global information systems strategy at Sun, said in an interview Friday. He estimated that what Sun is calling the industry-standard server market is worth about $17.5 billion. "We will be the lead player," he added.

The Sun Fire servers run on Advanced Micro Devices Inc. Opteron processors. The Sun Fire X2100 is a single-socket rack-mount server, the X4100 a two-way machine and the X4200 a four-way server. Sun will also preview future members of its new 64-bit Opteron-based family, notably an eight-processor, dual-core midrange server, Singer said.

The Sun Fire X2100 starts from $745 and is based around one Opteron Model 146 processor and comes with Sun's Solaris 10 operating system and 512MB of memory. Entry-level versions of the 1U Sun Fire X4100 and 2U Sun Fire X4200 are priced at $2,195 and $2,595, respectively, and come with one Opteron Model 248 processor, a service processor, a power supply unit, Solaris 10 and 1GB memory, according to Sun. U is the standard unit for measuring the space between shelves on a server rack where 1U equals 1.75 in.

"We're redefining what an industry-standard server is," Singer said. "We're taking on HP." He pointed to the availability and servicing features Sun has built into the servers such as hot-swap functionality so that customers can take out and replace components as the servers are running.

The new servers were designed by Sun co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim. He left Sun in 1995, returning in February 2004 when Sun purchased his server design company Kealia. At that time Bechtolsheim and his team started work on Galaxy. Sun had originally promised to bring Bechtolsheim's servers to market in the first half of this year.

"When we first bought Kealia, our intention was to rush products out to market," Singer said. "Instead, we spent a year camped out in New York, London and Hong Kong to find out what it would take for us to displace Dell and HP's industry servers." User concerns Sun discovered centered not only around price/performance but also on servers' efficiency and footprints as organizations found themselves running out of space in their data centers, he added.

Sun used to dominate the financial industry but lost its edge during the dot-com era, according to Singer. "We weren't paying attention; we got distracted by all these people with pierced body parts and blue hair," he said. "We missed changes in the marketplace. It's very distracting to grow at 60% per quarter and very humbling to have it disappear. We're now paying attention to Wall Street again."

At Monday's event, Sun expects to have plenty of Wall Street CIOs on hand to talk about the company's new servers. Also at the event will be a host of independent software vendors that focus on the financial sector that will announce that their applications run on the Solaris 10 operating system.

With previous quarterly product rollouts Sun has tended to throw in as many new offerings as possible often leading to messages about its technology being lost in the wash, according to Singer. This time, the company is limiting itself to three points of focus -- the new servers, its plans to retake Wall Street with the new hardware, and a bunch of storage hardware and software that can be sold alongside the Sun Fire servers.

There was some internal debate at Sun over having a separate name for the Bechtolsheim servers, but in the end the company decided to stick with its existing Sun Fire brand, Singer said.

Sun won't specifically be talking about its own Sparc-processor road map to power high-end servers Monday. However, in the future, the company does expect to explain how the new Sun Fire servers fit in with its upcoming Niagara and Rock chips as well as its Sun Grid strategy, according to Singer. Commenting on a recent industry rumor that Niagara-based servers will use the same chassis as the new Sun Fire machines, he said, "I doubt it's inaccurate."

Monday's announcement is just the start of many more new Sun product launches, according to Singer, promising "one every few months for the next two years." He quipped, "Over the last couple of years, Wall Street analysts have said they wish Sun wouldn't spend $2 billion on R&D [research and development] every year. They say, 'You'd be profitable if you cut that [figure] in half,' but [Sun says], 'In four quarters, we'd be gone.'"

Sun also announced seven storage products that were in the pipeline prior to the closure of its acquisition of Storage Technology Corp., which took place Aug. 31, according to Randy Kerns, vice president of strategy and planning with Sun's storage business.

Sun is in the process of changing all its storage products to be branded StorageTek, but these offerings will be branded under the old Sun StorEdge name until the next time they're refreshed, he said in an interview Friday.

The products include the Sun StorEdge 5310 network-attached storage gateway that allows customers to decouple the NAS control function from the back end and connect up to a storage-area network, according to Kerns. Also, the company unveiled its Sun StorEdge 3320 SCSI workgroup array that Sun will position to be sold alongside its new Sun Fire servers.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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