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Hardware Today — Sun Microsystems Server Snapshot Page 2

By Ben Freeman (Send Email)
Posted Jul 20, 2004


Forging Ahead on x86 With Solaris

After some waffling, Sun has made x86 amends with appropriate gusto and has placed high hopes on its V20z Opteron-based rack servers. Sun believes the coupling of V20z and Solaris x86 revision 6 will be tempting for enterprises that have less than stellar Linux marriages. "Customers are saying, 'I don't see the robustness, I don't see the feature sets, I don't see the support I was expecting for my applications from the Linux environment,'" Sun Senior Technical Marketing Manager Bob Waumbaugh said.

Whether a kitchen-sink Solaris approach will win over x86 admins remains to be seen. Sun clearly hopes to make inroads against Linux with its vague promise to open source Solaris in the future.

Yet, it seems unlikely Sun will win purely on price. "I don't think they have their strategy for the SMB [market] put together like HP and IBM do," Gartner Vice President of Strategic Marketing Laura McLellan said.

Thus, Sun's hopes for x86 seem paradoxically pinned on a Solaris built for the Unix market transcending its roots and assuaging administrator unfriendliness for software viewed as rooted in SPARC philosophy.

SPARC IV Sparkles ... With Solaris

Sun's reliance on Solaris makes considerably more sense for its new UltraSPARC IV servers than its x86 line. UltraSPARC IV's CMT capabilities bring it head to head with IBM's POWER chip, though they don't differentiate it outright. "I would never take AIX over Solaris," Andy Ingram, vice president of marketing for Sun's Scalable Systems Group told ServerWatch, "Solaris 10 is the culmination of years of effort, and in terms of capabilities, performance, and ISV support, Solaris is stronger than AIX."

Small SPARC hardware perks aside (like what Ingram sees as IBM's downplaying of POWER's NUMA-esque qualities), the soon-to-be released Solaris 10, scheduled for September, will be Sun's chief differentiator for the platform.

Bright Future with Fujitsu and Solaris

On June 1, Sun cemented a 20-year partnership with Fujitsu. It announced the Advanced Product Line (APL), which will merge Sun's SPARC servers with Fujitsu's by 2006. APL will spotlight Fujitsu's Primepower on the high end (code-named Olympus) and Sun Fire on the low end (code-named Niagara).

"Both sides are doing the development, and in the end we get one product line to be shared between them," Ingram said, "We pick different colors for the cabinets, and different logos, but otherwise they are essentially the same."

The alliance should lend Sun and Fujitsu wider Asian and North American exposure, respectively. "The manufacturing is setup so all products can be manufactured in one of three sites," Ingram said.

Servers will be manufactured in Sun's Oregon and Scotland facilities, and Fujitsu's plant near Tokyo. "The goal is to build a product as close to the customer as possible," Ingram added, "so we ship the components and do final integration at one of those three sites."

At that time Sun also announced the cancellation of its Gemini (UltraSPARC V) and Millenium (dual UltraSPARC II) projects along with a gradual phasing out of its SPARC manufacturing relationship with Texas Instruments. Future upgrades to SPARC will be determined jointly with Fujitsu, Ingram said. We wonder whether this future-minded move is meant on some level to downplay the current bad news.

Those fearing Sun will be offloading its SPARC production entirely on Fujitsu down the road may take heart in the fact that Sun is running two of the joint venture's manufacturing plants. (Others may rightly say Sun should offload SPARC.) Another advantage of the Fujitsu partnership, Ingram noted, is that it further frees Sun to develop its advanced, super-CMT capable processors.

The Long-Term Forecast

Gartner's McLellan sees recent Sun subscription model pilots, where developers are offered systems in exchange for software subscriptions, as a sign of profitability to come — a profitability she believes will arrive for the fiscal year beginning this month. "How does HP sell against free?" she asks. A good question, but creating competing subscription models is one potential HP response."

As to the long-term future, McLellan sees Sun finding success selling computing power wholesale, through private labels. She predicts 50 percent of enterprises in the United States will have "shifted over from an asset to an access model by 2010," and Sun's billions of dollars in savings it will see it through and give it a jump start in this field.

Despite Sun and Sun friendly analysts forecasting a sunny long-term future, the present and near term remain cloudy. We recommend packing an umbrella and sunglasses in your briefcase.

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