Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Sun Microsystems - having already jaw-boned each other on the respective merits of their high-end Unix servers - shifted their sights last week to entry-level Unix servers and started all over again.
The battle on the low-end Unix front will be fought over customers such as Dennis Steiger, chief of Internet engineering at Shaw Communications, a cable and Internet services company in Calgary, Alberta. When it came time for the company to build its own data center last year, Shaw chose Suns multiprocessor Enterprise 4500s and Netra rack-mount servers.
Shaw has installed 150 servers in its data center, and about 30 of them are Suns low-end Netra servers. The rack-mount Netra servers "give us the opportunity to move things around," Steiger said, since they can slide in and out of racks easily. The Netra servers are also managed remotely, including configuration, powering up and powering down.
The Netra servers are adept at processing e-mail accounts, Steiger said. Shaw currently hosts 2 million e-mail accounts, plus those of another million cable modem users "and the number is still growing," Steiger said.
Sun last week introduced the Netra 20, a new low-end model that Steiger said he would consider in future orders. Shaws older Netra t1 servers are equipped with the UltraSparc II chip; the Netra 20 is the first Netra server loaded with UltraSparc III, which runs at 750 megahertz. The Netra 20 is priced at $11,495 with one processor and 512 megabytes of memory.
The build-up of Shaws data center illustrates the fact that "the most rapid growth in the server market is in the rack-optimized servers," said Mark Hudson, HPs worldwide marketing manager for servers.
HP last week offered an upgraded low-end server, the rp5400, which is now equipped with the Precision Architecture 8700 processor - the same chip that powers HPs Superdome and midrange systems running at 750 MHz. The previous generation was the 8600 chip running at 600 MHz. The rp5400 comes in four- and two-way models, with a starting price of $16,900.
HPs rp5400 servers will have greater longevity than other low-end servers because they will be upgradable to future generations of Intels Itanium chip family, Hudson said.
Not to be outdone, IBM introduced a two-way Unix server, the p610 - "the worlds most powerful entry server," according to its advance billing. The p610 is a one- or two-processor machine, powered by IBMs Power 1.1-gigahertz central processing unit. The system starts at $7,495.
"Weve never had a Unix box that went down this low," said Willow Christie, an IBM spokeswoman. The p610, however, can be equipped with up to 291 gigabytes of internal disk storage, an unusually copious amount for an entry-level server.
The p610 also includes the self-managing features of IBMs eLiza technology initiative, which embeds some system monitoring and management features of its Tibco Software system management software into the server itself.
HP plans to enter the ultra-dense rack-mount server market in the near future, and should have a product for that market "in the next few months," Hudson said. IBM already markets such servers through a partnership with RLX Technologies.