Unlike conventional mobile workstations based on Intel Corp. technology, Sun Microsystems Inc.s Ultra 3 Mobile Workstation is based on the UltraSPARC processor and runs on the Solaris 10 operating system. The 550MHz to 1.2GHz units offer up to 2GB of RAM, a hard disk drive up to 80GB and wireless 802.11b connectivity.
The workstations most important feature, however, is its ability to allow Sun workstation users—typically those in areas like defense, government, or oil and gas—to run their applications in SPARC binary while in the field, said Rajesh Shakkarwar, senior director for workstations in Suns network systems group.
In fact, the companys user base came to Sun requesting that capability, he said.
"Our customers told us they wanted instruction set-architecture compatibility—to be able to run the same binary they run in their data center in the field," Shakkarwar said.
Although its not a large market, its a captive market, making Suns move a logical one, said Alex Herrera, a senior analyst with Jon Peddie Research in Truckee, Calif.
"There are applications where people are still dependent on SPARC and Solaris, and need binary compatibility across the board," he said. "Given that, there is no competition from Wintel machines, so you cant compare them in terms of battery life or graphic performance because its a moot point—they arent binary-compatible with the installations they have to serve."
Although Sun has introduced many other workstation products, including this weeks Ultra 20 Workstation, this is the first time the Santa Clara, Calif. company has offered a mobile workstation.
Out of the top tier of non-Intel workstation vendors such as IBM, NEC Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Silicon Graphics Inc., Sun is the only company that would have any interest in offering such a workstation, said Lloyd Cohen, director of worldwide market analysis at IDC of Framingham, Mass.
"The traditional workstation market is declining rapidly as everyone moves to Intel-based systems," he said. "But Sun has more than 1 million traditional workstations installed—over 72 percent of the market. With this move, they are trying to slow the migration away from their type of architecture."
Sun is by far the most prolific shipper of traditional workstations, Cohen said, sending out more than 21,000 traditional workstations in the first quarter of 2005. The next closest competitor, HP, shipped 4,200 units. But the market is clearly declining, from $1.8 billion in revenue in 2002, down to $1.1 billion in 2002 and to $738 million in 2004.
If Sun can get into the market at low cost, however, the move makes quite a bit of sense, Herrera said.
In fact, both SPARC mobile workstation vendors Tadpole Computer Inc. of Cupertino, Calif. and Taiwan-based Nature Worldwide Technology Co. (Naturetech) are acting as OEMs for the Ultra 3—a move Herrera says doesnt surprise him.
"It seems like Sun realized it wasnt going to sell a ton of those machines, but that people who needed them were going to buy them," he said. "This way they will still get huge margins, but it wont cost them that much because they dont have to invest a lot to put them out there."
A Sun spokesperson noted that the Ultra 3 does not cover Tadpole and Naturetechs entire product lines, and thus does not create a competitive issue. She stressed that Sun continues to work closely with both vendors.
Pricing for the Sun Ultra 3 Mobile Workstation starts at $3,400. It will be available in July.