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Sun server in "Cherry" flavor on its way

Hoping to keep Intel a distant second in the low-end server market, Sun prepares to announce the arrival of its four-processor "Cherrystone" server Tuesday.

Sun Microsystems plans to announce Tuesday its long-awaited four-processor "Cherrystone" server, a key product in the company's effort to stave off Intel-based competition.

The Sun Fire V480, with up to four 900MHz UltraSparc III processors, is a little brother to the V880, an eight-processor system that has proved extremely successful for the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company. The V480 is a replacement to the UltraSparc II-based 450, which ranges in price from $18,695 to $52,195. Prices for the V480 should be announced Tuesday.

In addition, Sun will bring its faster 900MHz UltraSparc III processors to the V880, which previously used the earlier 750MHz processors, Sun said in a media advisory Monday. The 900MHz V880s already are for sale on Sun's Web site.

Sun faces competitive pressure from IBM and Hewlett-Packard in midrange and high-end Unix servers, but it dominates in lower-end machines. In that segment of the market, though, Sun has competition from Intel servers running Windows and Linux; the V480 is aimed at keeping those rivals at bay.

Sun has released numerous servers based on its newer UltraSparc III processor, but the four-processor Cherrystone system is arriving later than hoped. When Sun debuted its first UltraSparc III systems more than 20 months ago, executives said the entire UltraSparc III line would be on sale within a year.

To deal with a recent spending slowdown, Sun has laid off staff and is shutting down for a mandatory vacation the week of July 4, a step it took in 2001 as well. The company has stood by its plan to return to profitability this quarter.

Sun's systems use 64-bit processors, a major advantage when running large databases. Intel hopes its 64-bit Itanium line will help address this weakness in its product line. Its first-generation Itanium systems weren't a serious factor in the market, but Intel hopes that Itanium 2 systems coming later this summer will prove more successful.

A four-processor Itanium 2 system will cost about $41,000 with 8GB of memory, said Vaughn Mackie, enterprise platform marketing manager at Intel, speaking at a media event Friday.

Sun sells two categories of UltraSparc III servers. The "volume" systems use components and manufacturing methods drawn from the larger world of Intel servers, whereas higher-end systems all are based on Sun "Uniboards," four-processor building blocks that can be assembled into everything from eight-processor Sun Fire 3800 systems to 72-processor Sun Fire 15K "Starcat" systems.