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Sun to launch new low-end servers

The two new low-end servers use a faster UltraSparc IIi processor and will compete with future Sun servers that employ chips from Sun rival Intel.

Sun Microsystems will launch two new low-end servers Tuesday that use an upgraded UltraSparc IIi processor--systems that will compete with future Sun servers that will employ chips from Sun rival Intel.

The 1.75-inch-thick Sun Fire V120 and the Netra 120, to be announced Tuesday at the Supercomm show in Atlanta for telecommunications companies, employ Sun's UltraSparc IIi processor, an improvement over the UltraSparc IIe that powers the lesser V100 model.

The V100 reinforced Sun's presence in the market for sub-$1,000 servers, a price range where Intel machines dominate. With its improved processor and significant new administration features, the V120, though, will cost a minimum of $2,495, with useful configurations likely priced higher.

Sun, a server specialist, faces increasing competition from Dell Computer, Hewlett-Packard and IBM in lower-end servers built around Intel processors. "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em," Sun decided, announcing plans to sell low-end servers with Intel or Intel-compatible processors and the Linux operating system. It's better to cannibalize one's own sales than to lose them to other companies, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company reasoned.

The Netra 120 is similar to the V100, but it's designed to meet the rigorous Network Equipment Building System (NEBS) standards that guarantee a computer will work during fires or freezing temperatures and can run off telecommunication companies' gigantic batteries to protect against power failure.

HP, IBM and others are aligning behind an effort to push Linux computers into telecommunications markets. Until Sun's Linux push began, that would have been a more significant threat, but Sun still has work to do in getting its version of Linux ready and reworking its vision to build its entire product line around its UltraSparc processors and Solaris operating system.

The V120 and Netra 120 both come with software and an integrated management card with its own network connection that allows system administrators to manage the servers more easily, Sun said. The products let the server's identity be transferred to another if it crashes and lets administrators control the system remotely from a central console.

The servers also include with Sun Open Network Environment (Sun ONE) software for hosting Web sites, Sun said.

The V120 supports 4GB of memory to the V100's 2GB, and it comes with 36GB hard drives instead of 18GB. The V120 comes with a 550MHz or 650MHz UltraSparc IIi compared with the V100's 500MHz UltraSparc IIe. The new processors also come with 512k of high-speed "cache" memory, compared to 256k on the V100.

Customers for the V120 include the U.S. Army, which is using the server in its next-generation Tactical Operations Center, used to support mobile military operations, Sun said. And Nortel Networks bought Netra 120 products to support some mobile phone operations.

The new products also support an add-in card that speeds up Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encrypted communications, the type that commonly secures transactions such as credit card payments over the Web. Low-end servers are often used to connect to people's Web browsers, and accelerated encryption lets computer administrators wring more performance out of a server because it unburdens the computer's main processor.

Intel promises its Itanium line of processors will allow Intel-based servers to break competitors' SSL speed records--even those with accelerator cards. For the time being, though, the Itanium's relatively untested new software has hobbled the processor's spread.