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Sun plans 12-processor Unix server

Sun Microsystems plans to unveil its Sun Fire v1280 server as soon as next week, an effort to ward off IBM's and HP's assault on Sun's No. 1 position among Unix server makers.

Sun Microsystems intends to introduce a 12-processor Sun Fire v1280 server as soon as next week, a machine built to ward off IBM's and Hewlett-Packard's assault on Sun's No. 1 position among Unix server makers.

According to a Sun Web site in Belgium, a 12-processor v1280 is expected to cost 302,000 euros, or about $326,000. The system will use 900MHz UltraSparc III processors.

Sources said the debut is expected Feb. 10 at a San Francisco event featuring outspoken Chief Executive Scott McNealy, among other executives. Sun declined to comment.

Other v1280 configurations will include a four-processor system with 8GB of memory for about $95,000, an eight-processor system with 16GB of memory for about $150,000, and a 12-processor system with 24GB of memory for about $207,000.

Sun still is the top seller of Unix servers, machines that sold in great quantity and with plump profit margins during the Internet boom. But IBM and HP have been chasing hard to catch up, and all three companies have discounted prices deeply amid the current economic gloom. Although Sun has managed to keep its top rank, it's also been pushed into unprofitability.

Today's pricing has been a delight for computer buyers, who can pit server makers against one another in bidding wars, said Giga Information Group analyst Brad Day.

"For the information technology manager making purchasing decisions--they can just sit back and goose and goose," Day said. "It's the year of the negotiating tactic."

Sun has been successful with lower-end and high-end Unix servers, but HP has historically led the midrange Unix server market, at which the v1280 is aimed. IBM, meanwhile, is keeping the pressure on with new midrange servers such as its p650, which carries IBM's fastest current version of the Power4 processor.

Sun has said the eight-processor v880 and four-processor v480 have been hot sellers, and doubtless the company hopes for another success with the v1280. The machines are made by Sun's "volume" systems group, which, under the leadership of Neil Knox, builds machines intended to sell in larger quantities. The higher-end "midframe" line--the Sun Fire 3800, 4800, 6800, 12K and 15K--have fancier features and steeper price tags.

With the v880 and now the v1280, though, the volume systems are starting to overlap on the midframe products.

A 3800 with eight 1.05GHz processors and 32GB of memory is listed at $357,000, according to Sun's online store. A v880 with eight 900MHz processors and 32GB of memory sells for $130,000.