Fujitsu challenges Sun in server arena

Even as Sun Microsystems launches its most important new products in years, Fujitsu Technology Solutions is likely to beat it out of the gate with a new top-end server.

Stephen Shankland Former Principal Writer
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Stephen Shankland
3 min read
Sun Microsystems is beginning to face a new rival in the market for high-end Unix servers. But the machines, instead of running competing operating systems from IBM, Compaq Computer or Hewlett-Packard, run Sun's own Solaris.

Even as Sun launches its most important new products in years, servers based on the UltraSparc III chip, Fujitsu's North American arm is likely to beat Sun out of the gate with a new top-end server based on its own version of the Sparc chip.

Fujitsu Technology Solutions has a 64-CPU server and will begin selling a 128-CPU model in mid-April, said Tom Donnelly, North American marketing manager for the line, called the Prime Power family.

"We're going to go into the market, and we're going to have a competitive Solaris platform," Donnelly said. Customers want a second choice besides Sun, the dominant seller of Unix servers, when it comes to buying high-end systems, he said.

But Donnelly insisted Fujitsu is as much Sun's ally as a competitor. "We're targeting HP and IBM and Compaq specifically, and we're spreading the Solaris base," he said. "We're not seeking out Sun customers and trying to displace Sun."

Fujitsu's move was made possible by a complicated arrangement negotiated by Sun, Fujitsu and Fujitsu subsidiary Amdahl that took effect in November. The arrangement lets Fujitsu Technology Solutions, itself a subsidiary of Amdahl, sell its own Sparc-Solaris systems in North America while prohibiting Amdahl from selling Sun servers in that same market. Amdahl, meanwhile, may continue to sell Sun servers in the rest of the world, including Sun's top-end E10000s.

Fujitsu, while tiptoeing around Sun's customers, clearly doesn't lack ambition. "From a pricing standpoint, we are about 10 percent below Sun on an equivalent configuration," Donnelly said. "We are a new company, and we have to get into the business."

A basic model with eight CPUs and 8GB of memory costs about $250,000. A fully loaded 128-processor machine probably will cost about $7 million, Donnelly said.

Fujitsu's designs are based on its Sparc64 chip, a CPU based on designs licensed from Sparc International. It complies with version 9 of the organization's specification, as does Sun's new UltraSparc III.

The Unix server market, once thought to be quickly replaced by Microsoft Windows servers, were reinvigorated by the Internet and by continued computerization at large corporations. The market grew 14 percent, from $25.4 billion in 1999 to $29.1 billion in 2000, according to research company IDC.

The high end of the server market, long dominated by Sun's E10000, now is seeing greater competition.

HP's Superdome, which began shipping in January, can accommodate as many as 64 CPUs and sports a feature that IBM mainframes and Sun's E10000 have had for years--the ability to split the computer into several independent "partitions."

Meanwhile, IBM's 24-processor p680 began shipping last fall and is expected to be replaced by a 32-processor system code-named "Regatta" this fall. Regatta will incorporate sophisticated partitioning features that have the potential to outpace Sun and HP.

Fujitsu's machine also offers partitioning, with the 128-CPU model able to be subdivided into as many as 15 sections, Donnelly said.

Fujitsu sells several of the Prime Power models. The model 200 has one or two CPUs; the 400 has four; and the 600 sports eight, with a new version coming that can accommodate 16. At the higher end, the model 1000 can handle 32 CPUs, and the model 2000 has room for 64.

But where Sun has sold thousands of its E10000s, Fujitsu has just begun. Currently 12 customers, all Fortune 100 companies, have bought the top-end model 2000, Donnelly said. Four customers have said they'll want the higher-end 128-CPU model when it arrives.

One hurdle facing Fujitsu is that the beefier the computer, the more cautious the customer. Companies buying these multimillion-dollar machines usually require long periods of time to certify that the machine works as it should.