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Sun releases four-Opteron servers

Four-processor SunFire V40z is latest addition to what is likely to be a large family of Opteron servers from Sun.

Sun Microsystems has doubled the number of Opteron processors inside its SunFire server line, launching the four-processor SunFire V40z on Monday.

As expected, the new SunFire V40z is designed to use up to four Opteron 800 chips from Advanced Micro Devices to tackle jobs ranging from rendering product designs for automobiles to running databases. The machine can be configured with Opteron model 844, 848 or 850 chips, according to Sun's Web site.

The V40z is the second product in what is likely to be a large family of Opteron servers from Sun. The company announced plans to deliver Opteron servers in November and began shipping its first Opteron SunFire server, the dual-processor V20z, in April. So far, Sun executives have said they are pleased with sales of Opteron servers, although Opteron server revenue was not yet materially significant during the second quarter. Sun has also discussed selling eight-processor Opteron servers.

Sun CEO Scott McNealy has said that his company was mistaken in not recognizing the popularity of x86 servers earlier. (In computer parlance, x86 refers to the architecture or underpinnings of PC processors, such as the Intel Pentium and the AMD Athlon, and their server siblings, such as the Intel Xeon and the Opteron.)

Now the company is pairing Opteron with Solaris, Sun's version of the Unix operating system, and is selling Intel Xeon-based servers as well, in an effort to make up for lost time. However, the company still trails far behind x86 server leaders Hewlett-Packard, Dell and IBM. HP and IBM also offer Opteron servers.

According to Sun's Web site, an entry-level model costs $8,495 with dual Opteron 844 chips and 1GB of memory. With four Opteron 848 chips and 8GB of memory, the price jumps to $22,995.

Sun also sells servers using Intel processors, but it's using the Opteron's current novelty and performance advantages to try to secure an x86 foothold as fast as possible.

Sun also introduced a pair of Opteron processor workstations on Monday. The desktop machines can be used for jobs such as heavy-duty design work. The W1100z comes with a single Opteron 144, 146, 148 or 150 and has a starting price of $1,995; the W2100z comes with dual 244, 245, 248 or 250 processors and has a starting price of $4,695. Both workstations can be bought with Sun Solaris or Red Hat Linux and are certified to run Windows.

Sun originally had planned to announce the V40z system during its quarterly product announcement in June, but held off until the systems were shipping in volume to avoid repeating a problem that arose with the V20z launch. That product announcement irked customers and business partners who wanted the systems immediately, Fowler said.

"We chose to announce when the entire product line is available and in volume," he said.

Sun also is selling the systems on eBay, both through auctions and fixed-price sales.

Sun lowered the price of its existing dual-Opteron V20z with the Opteron 242 processor to make way for new models with the faster Opteron 250, Fowler said. "We're going to be day-and-date with new processors with AMD," meaning that Sun will adopt the practice common among computer makers using Intel and AMD chips: announcing products the same day a chipmaker announces a new chip, Fowler said.

Solaris front and center
Sun also is selling a bundle including its V20z and a three-year Solaris subscription and silver-level support package. It costs $492 per year in addition to $1,495 for a V20z with one Opteron 244 chip and 2GB of memory, or $4,995 for a V20z with two Opteron 250 chips and 2GB of memory.

"Compared to HP, Dell and even IBM, we're the only group with an operating system for the x86 hardware platform," Fowler said. The subscription offer, called the Enterprise Essentials Promotion, runs through Dec. 31.

Solaris remains a Sun-only operating system, unlike open-source Linux. Sun is working to spread the software, though, by tinkering with Solaris versions for Intel's Itanium and IBM's Power and by making Solaris open-source software.

Sun has certified Microsoft's Windows on the V20z, V40z and workstations, though it doesn't ship the system with that operating system.

Sun has placed a higher priority on quantity over profitability for its servers. It hasn't revealed specific figures, but in the second quarter of 2004, shipments of x86 servers increased 327 percent compared with the year-earlier quarter, Sun said last week.

In comparison, shipments of Sun's entire server line, which most often use the company's UltraSparc processor, increased 46 percent in the quarter.

The rack-mountable V40z is 5.25 inches tall--three rack units, also known as 3U. The V20z is 1.75 inches tall, or 1U.