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Sun adds capabilities, cuts prices

Sun's servers targeted for smaller groups of corporate users will become more manageable, less expensive.

In an effort to maintain an edge over servers based on the Microsoft Windows NT operating system, Sun Microsystems (SUNW) will incorporate technologies that will make its Ultra Enterprise server computers more manageable, even while cutting prices.

In large part due to sales of servers using the Unix operating system, Sun saw its revenues grow 25 percent to $2.5 billion for the quarter most recently ended. However, Unix server vendors such as Sun are still facing a formidable challenge from less-expensive Windows NT systems running on Intel processors.

In response, Sun's entire line of Ultra Enterprise servers will offer the ability to add or remove processors, memory modules, and other devices without having to restart the whole server. These capabilities are important for businesses that need to maintain continuous access to information stored on the servers, such as product orders and account billing information. Sun says products will have the technology by the spring of 1998.

Windows NT servers using Intel hardware do not currently incorporate the ability to swap out processors or memory on-the-fly as a standard offering, and these capabilities were previously offered only on Sun's higher-priced Starfire mainframe computers, which have a starting price of more than $800,000.

At the same time, Sun has reduced prices on its Ultra Enterprise 3000 server up to 27 percent, a move that anticipates new Sun products to be announced next week, according to Peter Lowber, an analyst with market research firm DataPro.

"The Ultra Enterprise 3000 is up to a six [processor] system, and they are reducing the price just to bring it at least down a bit to try to look reasonable in competition with the new workgroup servers due next week," Lowber says. Lowber thinks the Enterprise 3000s will basically be replaced by the newer machines for similar applications.

Sun is expected to launch a new server based on its own technology and the Unix operating system that will be comparable in cost to those servers built using hardware from Intel and software from Microsoft, as reported on August 11 by CNET's NEWS.COM.

The new Unix servers will incorporate PCI (peripheral component interconnect) bus interfaces that support up to four UltraSparc processors. The use of PCI technology common to most desktop PCs will reduce the cost of building the systems and give users the ability to use hardware designed for Windows NT servers, such as network interface cards.

The Ultra Enterprise 3000 server is now priced starting at $43,250 for a system with dual 167-MHz UltraSparc processors and 256MB of memory.