Compaq draws a bead on Sun

With Sun Microsystems in mind and Oracle at its side, Compaq Computer has launched its high-end, RISC-based server line, the AlphaServer GS, strengthening its hand in the race to be the Web server hardware provider for the e-business economy.

The server, which runs Linux and OpenVMS, Compaq's Tru64 brand of Unix, from the vendor's Digital division, will support CPU clustering as well as multiple operating systems running simultaneously via partitioning capabilities.

The multiple OS support and speed of the CPUs are features targeted at key markets for Compaq, such as telecommunications, financial services, high-performance technical/scientific computing, and health care, as well as specific application areas, including business intelligence/data warehousing, supply chain/ERP (enterprise resource planning), and CRM (customer relationship management).

Michael Capellas, who left Oracle to become president and CEO of Compaq eight months ago, said last week that the public support by Oracle is a direct result of his influence and a harbinger of better self-promotion to come from Compaq.

Oracle's support of Compaq stems from the software vendor's push for consolidation that it says is necessary for any e-business to be successful. The reliable and scalable performance of Compaq hardware is "what we need in the marketplace; it's absolutely critical to our business," said Gary Bloom, an executive vice president at Oracle.

Although Compaq officials conceded that the platform line is late, the new servers should help Compaq's stance against Hewlett-Packard and IBM, which recently made similar server moves.

Not far behind are other competitors' systems, which will be based on Intel's forthcoming IA-64 architecture. Another sign that Compaq and other Web server providers have no time to waste is the expectation that Intel's IA-64-based Xenon processor will run at 700MHz, one observer said.

For the moment, Compaq has strengthened its hand in the battle with market leader Sun, which "needs to be concerned," said Richard Partridge, an analyst at D.H. Brown Associates, in Port Chester, New York. Among other issues, "Sun's next refresh is late," Partridge said, and its competitors are not wasting time.

"Compaq has as good a chance as any of them," Partridge said.

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