Sun makes a fresh attack on low-end server market

Sun Microsystems Inc. on Tuesday will announce two low-end Solaris servers featuring integrated software stacks that it plans to position as low-cost alternatives to Intel Corp. servers running Linux.

Sun also plans to introduce a new family of midrange storage products featuring its N1 virtualization and provisioning technologies, according to sources familiar with its plans. The announcements are part of the quarterly technology refreshes that Sun promised earlier this year and that will also include several planned services-related announcements and price cuts, the sources said. Sun declined to comment on unannounced products.

Sun's new Sun Fire V210 and Sun Fire V240 servers mark a fresh assault on the low end, said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H. The systems are based on Sun's UltraSparc IIIi Jalapeno chip, which features technologies that optimize it for use in low-end servers.

The V210, which measures 1U (1.75 in. high), can support two processors, up to 4GB of memory, two drive bays and a Peripheral Component Interconnect slot. Pricing will start at about US$2,995. The V240 can support two processors, up to 8GB of memory and features more expansion slots and disk space. Pricing for it starts at US$3,495.

Both systems will also come with a full stack of preintegrated software that Sun hopes will be a crucial differentiator in the low-end space, according to another source close to the announcement.

That software includes the Solaris 8 operating system, Sun Open Net Environment (ONE) application server, Sun ONE Active Server Pages software, Sun ONE messaging server for 200 mailboxes and Sun ONE directory server with up to 200,000 entries, Haff said. Also included in the stack is Sun's SunScreen firewall technology and basic virtual private network support, he added.

"One of the things that Sun is certainly trying to play up is the value they are offering with this whole bundled approach," he said.

The problem is that what Sun is bundling may not always be what users want, said Eric Greenwade, a fellow at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory in Idaho Falls. "On the surface, it doesn't seem to offer us anything that we aren't getting out of our [Advanced Micro Devices Inc. Athlon] Linux boxes," Greenwade said.

But the integrated approach could make a lot of sense, especially for corporations that want to standardize on Sun technologies, he said.

On the storage side, meanwhile, Sun intends to introduce its StorEdge 6120 and StorEdge 6320 systems, which will be the first products in a new family of StorEdge 6000 Fibre Channel RAID products. The products will feature virtualization and provisioning technologies from the company's acquisition of Pirus Networks Inc. last year. The technologies are aimed at letting users better utilize their storage resources by pooling and sharing them across multiple applications.

Sun's efforts are aimed at helping it close the gap with rivals in the area of storage management capabilities, said Anne Skamarock, an analyst at Enterprise Management Associates Inc. in Boulder, Colo. "Sun is a latecomer in this space, but they are doing a really nice job of catching up," she said.

Sun will also announce price cuts for several of its low-end hardware products, sources said. Prices for the Sun Fire 280R, for instance, will be rolled back by as much as 40 percent. Also included in the price cuts are Sun's Sun Blade 2000 workstations.

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