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Hardware Today: Sun Server Snapshot

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The watchword for Sun in the past year has been “regroupment.”
Coming off a steep post-dotcom downturn, the company has turned its
attention, after a long period of neglect, to the fast-growing world
of x86-based servers.

Even with a renewed commitment to x86-based processors and some flip-flops on its Linux strategy, Sun still boasts a simple path to its server lines — with an occasional curve along the way to accommodate blade servers, telcos, and server appliances.

One of Sun’s traditional strengths has been its end-to-end focus on
system sales. Despite some flip-flops on its approach to Linux as a
part of its lineup, the company has generally distinguished itself
with a consistent emphasis on its own Solaris OE and SPARC
architecture. As a result, its server portfolio doesn’t present the
sprawling, complex collection of architectures and operating systems
you might expect to find in Hewlett-Packard’s
lineup. In fact, with the exception of some taxonomical oddities
presented by its desire to underscore its blade offerings, Sun follows
a fairly straightforward and linear progression from “entry-level” to
“high-end,” with a few loose ends presented by its carrier-grade
NEBS (Network Equipment-Building System)-certified line and its single current server appliance offering.

The entry-level servers in Sun’s lineup are the focus of much of
the past year’s change, as the Sun low-end strategy has firmed up.
Aimed at Web, database, and print services, Sun’s offerings in this
area are more numerous because the company provides a more gradiated
approach at this level, focusing less on adding processors and
storage, and more on form-factor and memory.

The bulk of Sun’s entry-level stable is SPARC-based.

At the lower end, little distinguishes the systems outside the
total possible memory capacity. Moving into the mid-range, a real
diversity manifests itself as the Sun Fire 200-series servers appear in a
wide array of storage options and form factors, including 1u, 2u, and
4u form factors; two, four, or eight hard drives, with varying options
for hot-swapping. At the high end of this range of offerings, the
Sun Fire 400-series provides up to 12 hot-swap drives and up to 8-way

On the x86 side of the entry-level range, there are two primary
entries: the Sun Fire V60x and V65x.

A collection of B100s blades combined with a Sun Fire V120 Server
form the N1
Blades Starter Pack
, aimed at easing customers into blade-based
data centers.

Sun’s high profile fight in 2000 and 2001 was with IBM’s mainframe
offerings. The battle line with IBM shapes up in this range of Sun’s
catalog, with machines in this line figuring prominently in the case
studies Sun presents for mainframe migration. Machines in this line
are aimed at everything from basic web and mail services to high
performance computing, and Sun places heavy emphasis on the role of
this collection of hardware in its server rehosting programs.

In the next year, this portion of Sun’s product line will undergo
some changes as the company makes good on its recent partnership with
AMD, and Opteron-based systems begin to bring 64-bit x86 computing to
Sun’s catalog, pitting the more 32-bit compatible Opteron against
Intel’s Itanium.

At Sun’s high end are the Sun Fire 12k and 15k, and the Enterprise
1000. The 12k was introduced last year as a means to stave off IBMs
Regatta servers, and represents, despite Sun’s identification of it as
a “high-end” server, more of a competitor against IBM and HP’s
mid-range, bridging the gap between the 15k, and the top of Sun’s
mid-range line, the Sun Fire 6800.

Occupying their own niche outside Sun’s straightforward low-end to
high-end progression are the NEBS-compliant, ruggedized Netra servers,
aimed at the telecommunication industry. Though Sun’s sales in this
area suffered fairly dramatically during the downturn, the company
pushed a pair of blade servers, the Netra 410 and 810, into the mix in
November, 2002.

Finally, Sun has shrunk its appliance lineup in the past year.
Currently, its iForce VPN/Firewall appliance is its sole offering in
that area, which used to include an array of products from acquiree
Cobalt Networks, which produced the RaQ and Qube line of Linux-based
server appliances.

The big question facing Sun now is whether its late decision to
push x86 harder and the losses in market share it’s taken in the overall
Unix market from IBM, in particular, have cost the company too dearly to
recover from. 2004 will probably provide an answer.

The following chart offers an overview of Sun’s server offerings,
broken down as Sun categorizes them.

Entry-level Servers Midframe & Midrange
High-end Servers Blade Servers NEBS-Certified Servers Server Appliances
Target Deployments Web, file, print, ERP,
Server consolidation, data
warehousing, data mining, OLTP, large databases, ERP
consolidation, mainframe rehosting, high performance computing,
decision support & data warehousing
Web services, data analysis,
straight through processing
Ruggedized environments Security/VPN
Processor Type UltraSPARC IIi, III

IIIi, Athlon, Xeon1
Mobile Athlon (100x)
UltraSPARC IIi, III Xeon
Processor Range 1-8 (SPARC)
1 (Athlon), 2 (Xeon)
1-24 Up to 106 1 1-12 1-2
Operating System SPARC:
Solaris 8/9
x86: Solaris 8/9, Linux
(Red Hat and
SUSE Enterprise editions)
Solaris 8OE or higher Solaris 2.6/7/8 SPARC: Solaris 8/9
x86: Linux, Solaris 9
Solaris 2.6/8/9 Sun’s hardened Linux
Servers Sun Fire (SPARC):

Sun Fire (x86):
V60x Compute
Grid Rack System

Rack System

Sun Fire:




Sun Enterprise:

Sun Fire:


Sun Fire:
B100x ,

CT 410,
CT 810,
CT 820,
VPN/Firewall Appliance
Price (Minimum Configuration) From $995 Starting prices range from
$54,695 to $94,490 at this level.
Contact Sun for
From $1,795 From $3,395 From $2,095

1 By mid-2004, Sun expects to have Sun Fire servers based
on the AMD Opteron chip in its product line.

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