Sun to Launch New Server Tuesday

The company will release a new high-end server Tuesday, codenamed Starkitty, sources say, that the company will use to help fend off rivals IBM and HP.

Sun Microsystems Inc. will release a new high-end server Tuesday, codenamed Starkitty, sources say, that the company will use to help fend off rivals IBM and Hewlett-Packard Co.

The new hardware, which will be positioned between the top-of-the-line 106-processor Sun Fire 15K and the mid-range 24-CPU Sun Fire 6800, also underscores a growing trend among top server makers to bring features once found in only their top servers into less costly boxes.

"In the Unix space, youre seeing vendors like IBM, HP and Sun, integrating high-end features – such as hard partitioning and virtual partitioning – into lower price ranges," said Brad Day, an analyst with Giga Information Group in Cambridge, Mass. "Its really the opposite of the Intel space, where more advanced technologies are usually introduced in low-end servers and then migrate up to larger 4-way and 8-way systems."

While a Sun spokeswoman at the companys Palo Alto, Calif., headquarters confirmed today the launch of a new Sun Fire server next Tuesday, she declined to reveal further details. Sources said, however, that the company will unveil the 52-CPU Starkitty, a takeoff on the code-name Starcat used for the 15K. Sources also said Sun will position the product against IBMs p690, code-named Regatta, launched in October, as well as HPs top-end Superdome server.

"In the last couple of years, competition in the high-end Unix space has intensified," Day said, with the release of more powerful servers by IBM and HP having eroded Suns once dominant position. "It used to be that customers looking for the most powerful performance would have Sun at the top of the list, if not the only name on the list. But now, offerings from IBM and HP are much more competitive."

In fact, IBM slipped past Sun in worldwide Unix server sales during the fourth quarter of last year, the first time it had done so since 1998, according to International Data Corp. The surge was fueled in large part by IBMs October release of its new p690 server, codenamed Regatta. For the year, however, Sun maintained its dominance in the market segment, garnering the most sales, based on revenue, with HP second and IBM third.

Still, one Sun customer said the computer maker needs to put more effort into touting its technology, rather than publicize its legal battles with Microsoft Corp. Last month, Sun garnered widespread media attention by filing a private antitrust suit against the software giant, seeking damages of more than $1 billion. The suit is the latest of several legal skirmishes between the two companies.