Sun Renews Low-End Push

Servers get power boosts, price cuts.

Sun Microsystems Inc. is pumping up the power and cutting the costs in two of its low-end and midrange servers, another move in its aggressive strategy in that space.

The Santa Clara, Calif., companys eight-way Sun Fire v880 server now comes with a 1.05GHz UltraSPARC III processor, which Sun officials say offers up to a 17 percent performance increase. At the same time, the company said last week it is cutting the price on the system by 25 percent. A v880 with two processors and 4GB of memory now starts at $32,995.

Sun is also cutting the price of its four-way v480 system, to $19,995, for two chips and 4GB of memory.

The moves illustrate Suns renewed focus over the last few months on the low end. In February, the company rolled out its first blade server architecture, featuring its Sun Fire Blade Servers and Sun Fire B1600 Intelligent Shelf chassis as key ingredients in its N1 data center virtualization strategy. Sun is also trying to compete in the low-end x86 space and this summer is expected to roll out 1U (1.75-inch) and 2U (3.5-inch) blade servers for the x86 market that will run Solaris x86 or Linux.

Last month, Sun unveiled two low-end servers—the Sun Fire V60x and V65x—that can run Linux or Suns x86 Solaris Platform Edition. At the time of the announcement, CEO Scott McNealy talked of future data centers running smaller servers linked to give businesses greater flexibility.

But Sun has had a presence in the low end for years, said Subodh Bapat, chief technology officer of the companys Volume System Products Group. Sun introduced a 1U server in 1997.

"Its not just the midrange and high-end markets that Sun has been a player in," Bapat said in an interview with eWEEK. "Weve always been players [in the low end]. We believe in addressing all segments of the market, from the low end to the high end, with [a Solaris] operating system that spans the entire range."

Suns Throughput Computing chip strategy, which attempts to maximize the amount of work done by a processor, will also play in the low end by enabling more work to be done in a smaller footprint, Bapat said. Sun is working to strengthen the backplane performance of its rack-mount server architecture, with enhanced networking and management planes, and improve the software stack and provisioning capabilities of the systems.

Suns second generations of blades and backplane fabric are due next year, with greater connectivity to storage area networks, speed bumps and InfiniBand capabilities, Bapat said.

Still, one industry observer questioned whether Suns strategy will pay off. Solaris on x86 is designed to attract Linux and Windows users but presents hurdles to businesses with no experience with Solaris, said James Garden, an analyst with Technology Business Research Inc., in Hampton, N.H. In addition, cutting prices on low-end systems could cannibalize Suns higher-margin midrange and high-end servers, Garden said.

"The changes are about allowing Sun to compete in a new-world server environment," said Garden. "I question if it will be successful because they are trying to change horses in midrace."