Sun to push developer package, Opteron

Company plans to unveil new initiatives intended to reverse ongoing market share slide.

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Stephen Shankland
3 min read
A new program from Sun Microsystems will aim to lure programmers to three technologies it considers crucial: Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron processor, the Solaris operating system and the Java programming environment.

The server maker already launched a plan in which developers could get a V20z dual-Opteron server, Solaris and development tools by signing up for a three-year subscription costing $1,499 annually.

A new program, though, will use a single-Opteron workstation--hardware that's better suited to programmer tastes than a server--along with development tools, technical information, documentation and training, said John Fowler, the new executive vice president of Sun's Network Systems Group.

Sun will tout the program next week in San Francisco at the annual JavaOne trade show for programmers. The program costs $1,495 per year and requires a three-year commitment, said Joe Keller, a vice president of marketing for Java Web services and developer tools at Sun.

The package contains Java Studio Enterprise programming tools, including Sun's Java Enterprise System of server software, which may be used for development purposes, Keller said. It's geared to programmers building sophisticated applications using services such as portal sites, identity management and communications software.

"Sun has been working hard on tools to make it easier to develop on Java. It would be logical to expect some of these tools might be included in this (package)," Fowler said in an interview Wednesday. Also included will be membership in a Sun developer community that comes with "an inside track on all the software technology," he said.

Fowler is in charge of the Santa Clara, Calif., company's lower-end server group, which sells models based on two "x86" processors, Intel's Xeon and AMD's Opteron. It's not a coincidence that Sun's new developer subscription program emphasizes Opteron. Departed Sun co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim returned to the fold when Sun bought his start-up, Kealia--which had been working on Opteron server designs.

Sun sells the dual-Opteron server. A follow-on, the four-processor V40z, is expected to arrive soon, along with a workstation.

"The four-way server and the workstation are extremely near-team" products, Fowler said. In terms of design and expansion options, he added, "The V40z is very similar to the V20z."

Opteron and Xeon systems, along with its software push, are crucial to Sun's ability to reverse its years of declines, Sanford C. Bernstein securities analyst Toni Sacconaghi said in a report released Tuesday.

"We have been pessimistic on Sun largely because we believe that the market for Unix-based servers, which has actually declined by 2 percent per year in revenues since 1996, will continue to exhibit little to no growth, going forward," Sacconaghi wrote. A Sun turnaround would require an improvement to the Unix market, Sun gains in Unix market share, and success in x86 servers or in its initiative to sell more server and desktop software, he said.

Despite a return to growth for the server market, Sun continues to lose share to rivals Hewlett-Packard, Dell and IBM--all companies that have sold x86 servers for years, in contrast to Sun's recent conversion.

Sun's new developer tools will run on Windows and Linux, but the subscription package will come with Sun's own version of Unix--Solaris--which the company is trying to spread to x86 servers. Sun argues that Solaris is more mature than Linux and already has a large number of software companies that support it and administrators who know it, but the Linux and Windows operating systems are supported by many more server makers.

Java, a software technology that lets the same program run on multiple operating systems and processors, insulates Sun somewhat from the issue of which operating systems prevail. Java faces stiff competition from Microsoft.

Although Sun wouldn't comment on who designed the V20z and V40z systems--beyond saying they're not from Kealia--some believe that both models are based on an AMD server design from a former start-up called Newisys, which manufacturer Sanmina acquired in July 2003.

"I do believe (the V40z) will be the Newisys design, since Bechtolsheim hasn't been around long enough to do anything, and they demonstrated the Newisys design behind closed doors last winter," Insight64 analyst Nathan Brookwood said.