However, the new Primepower 2000 system is arriving months later than a planned April introduction and will go on sale in a shrinking market for servers that has spurred price-cutting and other aggressive competitive tactics. On top of that, Sun and IBM also have new top-end systems scheduled to debut this fall.
Fujitsu Technology made its debut in March, launching an effort to take on Compaq Computer, IBM and HP but not trying to raid Sun's customer base. But because its servers run Sun's Solaris operating system, Fujitsu Technology's market overlaps with Sun's, the top Unix-server seller.
Fujitsu Technology said in a statement that Sun's Solaris Hardware Partners Group has tested and fully certified its servers, meaning the large number of software packages designed for Sun systems will run unchanged on Fujitsu Technology's machines. While Fujitsu Technology's servers could potentially cut into Sun's hardware market, Sun issues such certifications to support products that reinforce its software's popularity.
Conventional wisdom once had it that the Unix-server market was about to be made obsolete by cheaper servers powered by Intel chips and Microsoft Windows. But while the "Wintel" partnership reshaped the low end of the server market, it had little success penetrating the high end, where the greater power of Unix servers made them popular for tasks such as order entry for large retailers, stock trades for financial services companies or financial-account management for corporations.
In addition to such large accounts, Unix servers got a boost from Internet start-ups. But that business largely collapsed when the bottom fell out of the dot-com market. At the same time, mainstream corporations have curtailed spending to compensate for the general economic malaise.
Fujitsu Technology's new server can accommodate 128 Sparc64-GP chips, which work like Sun's UltraSparc CPUs. That's twice as many processors as those found in Sun's current top-of-the-line E10000 "Starfire" server or HP's top-end Superdome server and more than five times the number of chips used in IBM's 24-processor p680.
But processor count isn't everything. The clock speed and power of each CPU and the speed of the data pathways that connect a computer's components also are significant. IBM's servers, though using fewer processors, have beaten Sun and HP servers with more CPUs in some performance tests. And fewer, more powerful, processors can be an advantage when buying software that's priced according to how many CPUs the server has--Oracle's database program, for example.
Many components of the Primepower 2000 can be replaced without having to shut the system off, including disks, processors, memory, fans and hard disks.
Blue Cross Blue Shield is among the early customers of the Primepower 2000, a source familiar with the product said.
Competitors are waiting in the wings. Sun plans to introduce its new top-end "StarCat" server in September, a source familiar with the plans said. Sun's server chief John Shoemaker said earlier that StarCat will come in two configurations, one for businesses and one for more technical computing such as mathematical calculations. Analysts expect a 72-processor model for businesses and a 108-processor model for calculation.
IBM's 32-processor "Regatta" server is expected this fall as well. It will feature 16 Power4 chips, each of which actually house two CPUs. Regatta also will feature advances in "partitioning" capabilities that allow a server to be split into independent parts to handle different computing jobs.