Sun, Dell Make Server Moves

Sun's 'Starkitty' to feature partitioning; Dell unveils its first blade server.

Sun Microsystems Inc. this week will release a high-end server to woo enterprise customers that might otherwise opt for Unix boxes from rivals IBM and Hewlett-Packard Co.

Code-named Starkitty, the server will feature 32 CPUs and be positioned between Suns top-of-the-line, 106-processor Sun Fire 15K and the midrange 24-CPU Sun Fire 6800, according to sources.

The announcement from the Palo Alto, Calif., company comes a week after Dell Computer Corp., at a press event here, unveiled a server strategy targeting enterprise users that includes its first high-density blade server and enhanced server software.

Suns new hardware underscores a trend among top server makers to bring features once found only in their top servers, such as hard and virtual partitioning, into less costly boxes. Computer makers are pushing partitioning as a way to ease the workload on system mangers by enabling them to consolidate several servers into a single, easier-to-manage box.

While system managers agree that consolidating servers has advantages, support contracts from software vendors can prevent them from doing that.

"Software vendors have very specific requirements set out in contracts covering support, and many times they require their application to run in its own dedicated system," said Doug Long, network coordinator for MeritCare Health System, in Fargo, N.D. "If we can put the software in a box running other applications, well do that, but many times we cant."

Sun will position the Starkitty against IBMs p690 and HPs Superdome server. Sun has seen its grip on Unix buyers loosen in recent years. In fact, IBM slipped past Sun in worldwide Unix server sales during the fourth quarter of last year for the first time since 1998.

Meanwhile, Dells PowerEdge 1655MC server is the Round Rock, Texas, companys debut in the blade market and comes after similar announcements by HP and Compaq Computer Corp. in recent months. IBM resells blades from RLX Technologies Inc. The market for blade servers—which are thinner than traditional servers, enabling users to house more horsepower in less space—has been slow over the past year, but International Data Corp., of Framingham, Mass., predicts it will become a $2.9 billion market by 2005.

Officials with Houston-based Compaq said Dell will have a hard time catching up in the blade market. Paul Miller, director of product marketing for Compaqs ProLiant servers, said the company has already shipped 3,000 units of its ProLiant e-Class blade servers for such uses as Web hosting and infrastructure applications. Also, Compaqs two-processor p-Class blades, for larger enterprises, are in beta now and will be generally available by midyear. A four-processor blade design will come out toward the end of the year, Miller said.

Dell last week also unveiled two high-end servers, the PowerEdge 6600 and 6650, and enhanced remote management capabilities to its Open- Manage software.