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Sun could debut Niagara servers Monday

Sun Microsystems executives last week were eager to talk about the early arrival of servers using the company's "Niagara" processor, and now it appears that launch could come as soon as Monday.

Niagara is the spearhead of Sun's effort to reinvigorate its Sparc processor family, which after delays and lackluster performance has lost popularity to IBM's Power family and to x86 processors such as Intel's Xeon and Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron. Niagara has eight separate processing cores, each able to handle four instruction sequences called threads.

During a conference call last week about Sun's quarterly financial results, Chief Executive Scott McNealy, President Jonathan Schwartz and retiring Chief Financial Officer Steve McGowan all spotlighted the 2005 arrival of the Niagara machines. The systems had been scheduled to arrive in early 2006, though years ago 2005 had been the goal.

One source familiar with Sun's plans said the company plans two Niagara server families--the lower-end 3000 line and the higher-end 5000 line.

Niagara servers perform well running database and Java server software, according to Marc Tremblay, Sun's chief chip architect. Although the chips have eight cores, Sun plans to sell Niagara versions with six and possibly four cores as well, said David Yen, head of Sun's Sparc group.

The initial Niagara systems come in two rack-mountable versions, the 1.75-inch thick "Erie" and the 3.5-inch-thick "Ontario." The systems share the same chassis as the X4100 and X4200 models of Sun's "Galaxy" line of Opteron servers that started shipping in October.