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Sun server strategy solid

Never before has Sun offered its clients a more compelling argument to ignore the NT juggernaut.

NEW YORK--It's time to put up or shut up.

That's Sun Microsystems' (SUNW) message to Microsoft, which has been touting Windows NT as a large player in enterprise accounts. Sun claims that the fast-growing operating system (OS) is not ready for prime-time play in large data-intensive environments.

Much of the criticism is warranted--NT does not scale to the Unix heights of variants as does Sun's own Solaris OS. A senior Microsoft researcher admitted as much during a speech last week. (See related story)

"I think the evidence speaks for itself right now--it takes some time," said Dave Douglas, director of marketing for Sun's workgroup server division, on NT's scalability claims. His thoughts echo a marketwide sentiment regarding the popular OS.

Though Sun has stressed that sales of older low-end server systems in its line remain strong, never before has the company offered its clients as compelling an argument to ignore the NT juggernaut and remain a Unix shop. The new 450 server--combined with a version of Solaris for intranets--makes it simple, a big selling point for PC server systems.

"It's always nice to have something as part of the OS," observed Gerard Nappi, vice president of technology for AMIC Research, a reseller for Sun and PC-based systems.

Through Solaris, a shop can now tie in a variety of clients, including Windows-based PCs, and buy a similar set of popular applications for the same price as on NT. That was previously a sticking point for PC server companies.

"There's absolutely no reason to ever buy a Compaq Computer server again," said Scott McNealy, in typical "awe schucks" fashion. "I'm just looking for the reasons."

Sun is on a roll with its server business. The machines now account for over half of the company's revenue. "Our goal is simple: We want to be the No. 1 server vendor for the networked enterprise," said Ed Zander, president of Sun's server business. "The new workgroup demands more."

Combine the hardware push with Sun's stated intention to become the dominant player in the Unix OS-on-Intel market and the company has done everything it can to address NT without throwing in the towel and joining the PC camp.

There is room for optimism for Unix devotees. The Aberdeen Group projects the Unix-based application server market to grow from $23.5 billion this year to $37 billion by 1999. The embryonic NT sales in the same space are projected at $1.7 billion for this year and $6.5 billion by 1999. The numbers are not a death knell for Unix.

What remains to be seen is if a Sun server system based on UltraSparc chips and bundled with a Unix OS--however simplified--can penetrate the world dominated by the likes of Compaq and Hewlett-Packard.