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Sun beefs up midrange, high-end servers

Trying to put some more teeth into its Internet strategy, Sun Microsystems adds new midrange server computers and a new program to make it easier to buy its high-end servers.

Trying to put some more teeth into its Internet strategy, Sun Microsystems has added new midrange server computers and a new program to make it easier to buy its high-end servers.

The new Enterprise 220R and 420R servers can be bolted to a rack and are geared for use by Internet or application service providers, companies that typically need to stack up as many computers in as little floor space as possible, said Mark Canepa, vice president of workgroup servers.

Unix servers have proven a very healthy business with the boom in the Internet. In particular, Sun has benefited from the boom in business with record profits and revenues.

The new servers are designed to keep at bay IBM and Hewlett-Packard, the two other biggest Unix server sellers, said International Data Corporation analyst Jean Bozman. Though Sun passed those two competitors in Unix server revenues in 1998, all three are strong, with more than $4.5 billion in sales in 1998.

Compaq Computer, which acquired Unix server products through its 1998 acquisition of Digital Equipment Corporation, comes in fourth place with about $1 billion.

HP, in particular, is a fierce rival and has recently introduced new L-class servers that are similar in price and power to the new Sun servers. However, flagging sales of HP Unix servers have caused a reorganization of its sales force and, later, a drop in stock price.

The new Sun servers are similar to general-purpose models already in existence, the 250 and 450, only lacking the large amount of internal space for hard disks, Canepa said. That modification allowed Sun to squeeze the same CPU power into a computer 7 inches tall.

Sun's 220R can accept up to two 450-MHz UltraSparc III chips, whereas the 420R can use four. Basic versions of the machines cost $11,995 and $16,995, respectively, and are available immediately, a spokesperson said.

In addition to the 220R and 420R, Sun also introduced a server intended for telecommunications corporations such as telephone companies. These machines must work on DC power so they can run off the giant batteries phone companies use to withstand power outages, Bozman said. In addition, the servers must be able to withstand earthquakes, high temperatures from failed air conditioning, and smoke from fires, said Neil Knox, vice president of network systems at Sun.

The new telecommunication servers include the Netra t1400 and the t1405, which both can use up to four UltraSparc chips running at 440 MHz, and the Netra t1 model 100, which is only 1.75 inches thick.

Sun also released the Netra st D130, a $4,795 set of disks that provide up to 54 GB of capacity for the telecommunications companies that also meets the requirements for ruggedness.

You get what you pay for
Sun also will introduce a new way of paying for its high-end E10000 "Starfire" systems, a strategy called "capacity on demand." Under this method, customers will be able to buy systems that have only some of their processors available for use, while the idle processors can be activated by paying Sun additional licensing fees, said Shahin Khan, director of marketing for high-end servers.

For example, a company could buy a system with 20 processors but a license that enables only eight to be used. Later, if demands on the server increase, the other processors can be activated, Khan said.

The method makes the expensive E10000 machines more affordable. A typical price for a 20-processor system would be about $1.1 million. Buying it with only eight processors enabled would cost about 40 percent that much--about $400,000.

The feature is aimed in particular at companies installing complex business software such as SAP R/3 and at Internet companies that often experience quickly surging growth but that might not be able to afford to pay for the most powerful hardware at the outset, Khan said.

Sun will formally announce the program November 9.