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Tenacious server companies press ahead

Network Engines and other server competitors less known are trumpeting server releases amid the sour market. Compaq, HP, Dell and IBM may make the fierce competition even worse.

Even as top server companies such as IBM and Sun Microsystems struggle with a sour economy, lesser competitors are continuing their fight for ascendancy with several new products.

Network Engines, a struggling company that pioneered slim servers that could be bolted by the dozens into racks, announced its new AE1000 Intel server designed for use by software companies that want to use it as a foundation for special-purpose "server appliances," the company said. The server, a 1.75-inch ("1U") system with a Pentium III chip running at 866MHz or 1GHz, has a starting price of $1,500.

Meanwhile, RLX Technologies and OmniCluster opted for different approaches to packing CPUs as densely as possible. RLX has released its first 1U product, a model that can house six independent servers, each with a 633MHz Transmeta 5600 CPU and up to 512MB of memory. With all six servers, an RLX 1U system costs about $6,700.

And OmniCluster, whose servers plug into the PCI expansion slots of regular servers, has released its SlotServer 3000, which for the first time includes an Intel CPU. Previous models used an Intel-compatible but lower-powered National Semiconductor chip.

The companies face major hurdles, however, not the least of which is the down market that has cut the profitability of server companies and forced research firms such as IDC to reduce shipment projections.

Competition is fierce, too. Compaq Computer, Dell Computer, Hewlett-Packard and IBM all plan their own ultradense servers, and Intel plans to release chips next week that will compete better against the Transmeta products, which are designed to draw a minimum of electricity.

In addition, Intel plans to release dual-processor low-power chips in early 2002, with HP among companies that plan to release dual-CPU servers soon. RLX, on the other hand, "has looked into this but has no concrete plans to announce a dual-processor system at this time," a company representative said.

In an entirely different part of the market, the higher-powered midrange Unix server segment, where prices are often well above $100,000, Fujitsu Technology Solutions introduced two new systems, the eight-processor PrimePower 650 with 20 PCI slots, and the 16-processor 850 with 40 slots. Fujitsu Technology's products use 675MHz Sparc64-GP chips, which run Sun Microsystems' Solaris version of the Unix operating system.

The 650 and 850 models will be available at the end of December. A bare-bones 650 starts at a price of $180,000.

Fujitsu Technology's products ascend all the way up to 128-processor behemoths.