Sun, HP look to boost low-end Unix servers

Sun Microsystems Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. are taking their battle for Unix server sales to a new low, in the form of entry-level systems that start at less than US$1,000 and are aimed at uses such as running Web sites and e-mail systems.

Sun last month unveiled an upgraded version of its sub-$1,000 server, adding a CD-ROM drive and the enterprise edition of its iPlanet Web Server software. The single-processor server has a base price of $995, the same as the original model that Sun shipped early last year.

The move by Sun followed HP's introduction earlier in March of a low-end Unix server that also starts at $995. HP said the system is priced as much as 58 percent lower than its previous entry-level boxes.

There are some notable differences between the rival rack-mounted systems. Sun's server, formerly called the Netra X1 and now renamed the Sun Fire V100, comes standard with a 40GB disk drive in addition to the CD-ROM drive. Sun officials said the base system is ready to install and use as is.

HP's rp2430 doesn't include a disk drive as a standard feature, and the company said it expects typical configurations to cost about $3,500. But a dual-processor model of the server offers greater expansion capabilities than Sun does.

New Opportunities

The low-end systems give HP and Sun a chance to tap into a part of the server business that has relatively high volumes, said Jean Bozman, an analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass. "I'm not saying it's a mass market," Bozman said. But especially for Sun, she added, the low prices are designed to help it compete against Windows systems built around Intel Corp. chips.

Laura Finkelstein, group manager for Sun's entry-level servers, said the Sun Fire V100 is aimed primarily at small and medium-size companies that want to use a Unix server to manage e-mail, proxy caching, directory services and other Web infrastructure needs.

Companies that need an application server for distributed business units and branch offices are another target market for the low-end Unix machines, said Kate O'Neill, a product manager at HP.

Radianz Inc., a New York-based extranet and Web hosting provider, uses about 100 Sun Netra X1 servers to transmit real-time stock and bond prices to financial services firms over a global network.

Ken Chin, director of middleware services at Radianz, said he plans to begin adding Sun Fire V100 boxes to the network in the near future.

Radianz chose the Sun servers over Windows-based systems because most of its customers use Unix hardware themselves. "Wall Street has primarily standardized on Unix as being more stable and manageable," Chin said.

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