Sun's Serengeti takes server market by the tail

Sun Microsystems on Wednesday will introduce its long-awaited "Serengeti" server line at the company's "Data Center to the Nth" event in New York, according to sources close to the company.

Serengeti servers will be powered by Sun's 64-bit UltraSparc III processor, sources said. Serengeti was expected late last year, but delays with the UltraSparc III chip caused delays in delivering the servers.

Initial models of the Serengeti server could pack as many as 150 UltraSparc III chips, sources said.

Sun will use Serengeti to target the midrange Unix server market, which Sun officials have dubbed "the midframe" market. The new server line is meant to emphasize the stability of Sun's Solaris 8 operating system over Windows-based operating systems such as NT or Windows 2000, according to analysts.

"Sun is saying that the midrange [server market] should not look for an overgrown PC, but rather a heavy-duty, high-end system, almost a junior mainframe rather than [a Windows-based system]," said one analyst who requested anonymity.

Sun officials will not reveal Serengeti's pricing or performance numbers until the day of the announcement, said the analyst, adding that "Sun officials will be whipping and flailing their benchmarking and pricing numbers until the wee hours of the morning of the show."

Sun is expected to aggressively price Serengeti, opting for maximum market share over maximum profit margin.

"In a year of declining revenues, Sun's focus will be increasing market share rather than revenue. I think they will be anxious to gain [market share] at the cost of some revenue, and they will probably be aggressive," the analyst said.

The Serengeti line is expected to eventually replace all of Sun Microsystems' midrange Unix servers, including the company's Enterprise-class E10000 servers, which another UltraSparc III-powered server family, code-named StarCat, will replace, sources said.

Sun customers who have yet to upgrade to Sun's Solaris 8 operating system will need to do so before migrating to Serengeti, sources said.

Those familiar with the technology expect users to adopt UltraSparc III systems such as Serengeti and StarCat slowly at first. Many companies using UltraSparc II chips in their database configurations tend to be fairly conservative and will most likely wait for some time before migrating to UltraSparc III chips and Solaris 8 -- another reason for Sun to attack the less-conservative midrange market first with Serengeti, the analyst said.

With Serengeti, Sun stays one step ahead of Intel, which is still working to deliver systems this year based on its 64-bit chip, Itanium.

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