Sun Rolls Out Linux Server

In a bid to tap into the burgeoning popularity of Linux, Sun will unveil a new two-way server featuring the open-source software.

Sun Microsystems Inc., in a bid to tap into the burgeoning popularity of Linux, today will unveil a new two-way server featuring the open-source software, an entry-level system that also utilizes processors made by longtime rival Intel Corp.

While Sun has previously offered Linux on its low-end Cobalt line of servers—Sun bought Cobalt Networks Inc. in 2000—the computer maker has been among the last major computer makers to embrace the freely available software, which threatens to eat into sales of Suns proprietary Solaris OS.

The new two-way LX50 rack-mounted server starts at $2,795 for a single 1.4GHz Intel Pentium III system with 512MB of memory, or $5,295 for a dual 1.4GHz Pentium III box packed with 2GB of memory. The LX50 will be offered with a modified version of Red Hat Linux, or an Intel-based version of Solaris.

Sun CEO Scott McNealy will announce the new offering at a press conference in Palo Alto, Calif., this morning that is timed to coincide with this weeks biggest annual gathering of open-source supporters, LinuxWorld Conference and Expo, in San Francisco. McNealy will also deliver a keynote address at the event held at the Moscone Convention Center.

Suns announcement today marks the companys continued efforts to fend off increasing competition in the market for Unix-based workstations and servers, a segment it has long dominated.

McNealy is expected to tout Suns commitment to supporting Linux, which the company had publicly disavowed only a year earlier. Many customers and industry analysts still question whether Sun, the last major computer maker to embrace Linux, will boost its support for the open-source software as rival IBM has done, or whether the company will offer only a few token products and continue to push customers toward Solaris.

While Solaris is widely regarded as a solid software offering, the proprietary operating system comes at a cost, with licensing fees per system often running $500 or more. By contrast, Linux is available for free from various vendors on the Internet. If customers increasingly choose Linux as their preferred platform, Sun could potentially lose millions of dollars in revenue.

Suns announcement also marks another turnaround, with the companys new server featuring an updated version of Solaris designed for use with Intel processors. The move reverses Suns decision early this year to shelf plans to offer updated Solaris software for use with Intel-based systems.

Sun, which features its own UltraSparc processors in the vast majority of systems it sells, has had a long and often bitter relationship with Intel, whose 32-bit Pentium and Xeon chips have eroded Suns share of the low-end workstation and server markets.

Last week, a senior Sun executive blasted Intels new 64-bit Itanium processor, which is viewed as a serious threat to Suns core server business, ridiculing its rivals product as the "most expensive disaster in the history of high tech."

But despite their high-profile rivalry, Sun, of Santa Clara, Calif., has reluctantly boosted its ties to Intel. In particular, Sun has integrated Intel chips into its Cobalt servers, which originally featured processors by Advanced Micro Devices Inc. when Sun acquired the server maker for $2 billion in 2000. Acknowledging Intels strong loyalty among enterprise customers, Sun switched from AMD to Intel in a bid to increase system sales.

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