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Solaris server drops below $4,000

EIS Computers announces an ultralow-cost server that takes advantage of Sun's new, inexpensive UltraSparc II(i) chip to challenge Windows NT.

EIS Computers announced an ultralow-cost Solaris-based server, taking advantage of Sun's inexpensive new UltraSparc II(i) processor to challenge increasingly popular Windows NT-based servers on one of their key selling points: price.

The Moorpark, California, company debuted its Fusion-iX server at $3,950, a price point thousands of dollars less than many Solaris machines and comparable to low-end NT systems.

Driving costs downward is the 266-MHz UltraSparc II(i), which integrates a a number of typically separate features (such as memory) onto a single chip. Integration reduces the number of independent parts that need to be manufactured and installed and hence reduce the overall cost.

Sun itself credits the new chip for the low price points it announcd on its new Ultra 5 and Ultra 10 workstations. (See related story)

Sales of Microsoft's Windows NT operating system (OS) have been making inroads in networked office environments, workstations, and, to a lesser degree, on server computers at large corporations. The lower cost of machines running Intel processors and compatibility with the Windows 95 OS and Windows 95-based desktop software have been the prime selling points.

Unix, the OS on which Sun's Solaris is based, has retained an acknowledged superiority over NT in security, the ability to string together multiple servers, and the general availability of large-scale corporate computing software. For these reasons, most corporation's large-scale, high-end computers continue to be based on Unix or one its variants.

The announcement seems to indicate that Sun and its clone manufacturers are not going to abandon the market's low end. "NT usage is growing but satisfaction is not growing," said EIS president David Van Beveren.

"If that's their only advantage--price--we can eliminate that. At $3,900 we can do the same functionality [as NT], and the standard of excellence is high for Unix compared to NT applications," he said. But the timing of EIS' offering, simultaneous with the debut of two important Sun workstation models, demonstrates the difficult position Sun and its competitors face in trying to stave off NT.

Sun licenses Solaris and sells its UltraSparc chips, but also competes with its own products. Trying both to encourage clones and to keep prices aggressive while pushing the technology is a difficult balancing act, observed Dataquest analyst Peter ffoulkes.

"Because it's under attack from NT, Sun is working hard to retain its performance advantage and remain price competitive. Some smaller companies have been hurt [as a result]," he noted.

Van Beveren said the timing of the two announcements is "coincidental," voicing solidarity with Sun in the fight against NT. "We're part of Sun's approach. If you look at the whole picture of what Sun is doing, [especially with] enterprise, we're part of the same strategy."

Beyond using Solaris and the UltraSparc chip, the Fusion-iX uses an unannounced Sun circuit board, according to an industry source.

The EIS Fuxion-iX will be available in mini-tower or rack-mount configurations through value-added resellers by the end of the quarter. More powerful systems will be announced later in the year.