Sun claims ownership of midrange server space

Sun accents ERP, services with new Enterprise servers, software

By Rebecca Sykes and Mary Lisbeth D'Amico

May  1998
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New York (April 29, 1998) -- Sun Microsystems Inc. today highlighted its new dual focus on services and technology by unveiling a slew of services and products, including a new line-up of midrange enterprise servers that the company says incorporate mainframe-like features.

Available immediately, the new 3500, 4500, 5500, and 6500 servers run under the Solaris operating system and use the 336-MHz UltraSPARC processor. They scale from one to 30 processors.

The servers are designed for applications including enterprise resource planning (ERP), data warehousing, customer management systems, intranets, and high-performance computing, according to Sun. The machines incorporate dynamic reconfiguration and alternate pathing, features normally reserved for mainframes, Sun said.

At a press conference here today, Sun demonstrated the two features by adding a new network storage array to a 3500 server which had three CPUs and two I/Os. Using alternate pathing, a Sun employee isolated one I/O, pulled out the I/O board, put in a new fiber channel controller, slid the board back in, and hooked up the fiber channel. The process, which took around a minute, stands in contrast to the typical hours needed to get users off the system, shut it down, make the changes, reboot, and get users back on line, according to Sun.

The servers also feature Sun's 84-MHz to 100-MHz interconnect, called the Sun Gigaplane system bus. "This will allow (them) to run faster processors in the future," said Andy Ingram, director of marketing for Sun's enterprise server products.

The price for an entry-level Sun Enterprise 3500 system with two 250-MHz UltraSPARC II central processing units (CPUs), 256 megabytes of memory, 9.1 gigabytes of disk space, and a CD-ROM is US$49,700. The system scales to eight CPUs.

Analysts and users alike praised Sun's pushing of dynamic reconfiguration and alternative pathing down to the server.

Mark Smith, manager of IT services at Dow Corning, said that the features were invaluable in helping his company operate SAP and other applications at multiple sites around the world. "It's a big benefit," Smith said.

Sun "is not exaggerating when they say they're taking the lead in the midrange space" with this capability, said Anthony Iams, an analyst with D.H. Brown Associates Inc. in Port Chester, NY. "They are sustaining their strategy of taking mainframe functionality and taking it to the enterprise space."

Sun also moved its SyMON systems management software to the midrange server level; this software is designed to help corporations monitor and manage large Sun environments. As it currently exists, SyMON does not offer a single point of management for all Sun systems, but that will change when the software ships in the fourth quarter for all Sun server systems, low-end to high-end, which are supported by the current version of SyMON, according to Ravi Pendekanti, senior product marketing manager for Sun server software.


PeopleSoft, Baan application support
In addition, the company has extended its ERP services to support ERP applications from PeopleSoft Inc. and Baan Co. Previously, ERP services were only available for SAP AG and Oracle Corp. ERP applications, officials said. Sun has also established three new ERP competency centers in the Netherlands, Singapore, and Latin America. Sun's system sales in the ERP market increased by 400 percent in the 1997 fiscal year, the company said, and it is planning a major push in the midrange ERP market.

Sun's rival, HP, however, was not impressed by the ERP growth figures. According to David Scott, director of business strategies for HP's Enterprise Systems Group, his company has about four times as many implementations of ERP systems as Sun. Said Scott, "It's easy to grow fast when you're a minnow. 400 percent is good growth, but on a very small base it's not impressive."

Sun also announced a new family of supercomputer-class systems, Sun HPC (high performance computing) 3500, 4500, 5500, and 6500 servers, geared to customers running computer-intensive applications.

The HPC line marks the end of Sun's several-year absence of focus in that space, which was due to a lack of "fundamental architecture and fast chips that we needed," said John Shoemaker, vice president and general manager of enterprise servers and storage at Sun.

The HPC servers scale from one to 30 336-MHz UltraSPARC II processors in a single SMP node, and up to 120 processors in a four-node cluster, Sun said. The systems will offer dynamic reconfiguration and alternate pathing for online repair and configuration of I/O in June, and for CPUs later this year, according to a company statement. An entry-level HPC 3500 system configured with four 336-MHz UltraSPARC CPUs is $85,400.

"We're moving dramatically" into high performance computing, Shoemaker said. "It's a major new billion-dollar-plus opportunity for us."

Analysts said that the scope of today's announcements show that Sun has accepted that there is more to business success than sound technology.

Keeping partners happy
"Their background was Unix gurus," said William Moran, who is also an analyst at D.H. Brown. "They're trying to move into the commercial data center," and those customers expect not just products but services, he said.

Shoemaker readily acknowledged Sun's change in focus. Today's announcements represent a "shift we've made from being a very strong product company" to offering services and partnerships with ISVs and others, he said.

Sun's approach to partnerships is also savvy, because it minimizes competing with their partners, analysts said.

Through its VIP services, Sun is offering itself as a single point of contact for customers experiencing implementation problems with, for example, SAP on Sun, even if the problem doesn't stem from the Sun piece, according to Kevin Cummins, manager of the Business Applications Group at Sun.

But Sun will not actually get involved in programming third-parties' applications, Cummins said. Instead, Sun will in essence stay on the line while the customer works with SAP on the problem, he said.

"We do network layouts (and) system architectures, but we will not be writing SAP or PeopleSoft code," Cummins said. This strategy means that neither SAP nor systems integrators will have to worry about Sun cutting into their business, so Sun's partnerships will be more successful, he said.

In addition to partnerships and new products, Sun is smart to emphasize its services, which had been a strategic hole for the company, analysts said.

Lack of services has "been a big credibility problem for them," Moran said. "That was a big knock off for other vendors to say, `Oh those guys, they don't service what they sell.'"

--Rebecca Sykes and Mary Lisbeth D'Amico are correspondents with the IDG News Service


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