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Sun takes aim at MS

Sun Microsystems unveils a new workgroup systems strategy in New York that includes new servers priced to move.

    Sun Microsystems (SUNW) is aiming its Unix cannons at the Microsoft-Intel camp.

    As previously reported by CNET's NEWS.COM, the new servers' primary purpose is to stave off increasing use of Microsoft Windows NT-based systems in Unix-based shops. PC server giants such as Compaq and Dell and the PC side of systems companies like Hewlett-Packard have gained momentum in the form of larger accounts as hardware from Intel and software from Microsoft has gained more power.

    Announced today, the new Sun Enterprise 450 workgroup systems run the company's Solaris Unix variant and are priced at under $15,000. That is the same price range as systems from Intel-based vendors. Analysts have said the move is necessary to keep NT out of accounts traditionally based on Sun hardware and software.

    International Data Corp. (IDC) has said in the past that worldwide Windows NT server licenses outpaced Unix in 1996 and that this should continue in 1997.

    Sun will try to embrace this trend by also targeting Windows markets, allowing customers to run both Unix and Windows. "This is the first in a family of aggressively priced, high-quality servers designed to work in Microsoft Windows environments and is the linchpin of the company's strategy to capture key segments within the vast and growing market for workgroup servers," Sun said today.

    Ironically, Sun's embracement of Windows comes as Compaq--a Windows stalwart--announced a Unix partnership with The Santa Cruz Operation. (See "Compaq partners with SCO.")

    Sun is making it easy for Sun servers to interoperate with any PC "client." (A client is the user's PC, which connects to the server.) Users can plug Sun's servers into their existing desktops, including Windows 95, Windows NT, Macintosh, and Novell NetWare clients--without any change to the client desktop, Sun says.

    Featuring 250-MHz and 300-MHz processors, the Sun systems compare favorably in benchmarks vs. Intel-based competitors, offering 40 percent better performance than a similar Compaq model, according to numbers from the Transaction Processing Performance Council.

    "Everybody's looking at numbers these days," noted Gerard Nappi, vice president of technology for AMIC Research, a reseller that sells both Sun and Compaq boxes.

    Sun's new emphasis on workgroup servers comes as the company tries to position the market as a choice between its own Solaris Unix operating system (OS) and Windows NT. A new version of Solaris for Sun and Intel-based systems is competitively priced in comparison with NT, and NCR recently signed up to bundle the OS.

    ""They're obviously not going to take over the workgroup market but they are going to make some good inroads," said Robert Sakakeeny, an analyst with the Aberdeen Group. "I think Compaq is their target and I think they are going to feel the heat at the enterprise level."

    The new systems will be available within a month, with the base $14,650 model offering a 250-MHz UltraSparc II processor with 128 MB of memory and 4GB of storage.

    As part of the company's efforts to make Unix-based systems more palatable to the PC crowd, Sun will package with the server a one-button CD-ROM install that configures a version of Solaris with various add-on components for building an intranet. Other CD-ROMs for specific applications will soon be introduced as well, including a CD-ROM that features all of the Netra Web server line's series of software.

    A variety of third parties, including database giants Oracle and Sybase, announced support for the new Sun workgroup platform.