Sun, Digital target feds with mainframe-class servers

Sun Microsystems Inc. and Digital Equipment Corp. are staking out territory in mainframe-class computing with the introduction earlier this month of new high-end, Unix-based server technology.

Sun's new 64-bit Ultra Enterprise servers and Digital's TruCluster solution take different approaches, but each vendor claims to offer mainframe-like performance and reliability at more affordable open-systems pricing.

"There are places within the government that have been longtime mainframe-oriented, and these products now give us the ability to challenge in those areas," said John Leahy, group manager of government affairs at Sun Federal Inc. "It is going to open up a lot of new opportunities," Leahy said.

Sun's new Ultra Enterprise family of servers features a high-end system, the 6000, that runs as many as 30 processors, features 30G of memory and stores up to 10 terabytes of data. Pricing begins at around $210,000, Sun said.

The other new servers range in size from six processors with 6G of memory and 2 terabytes of storage to 14 processors with 14G of memory and 6 terabytes. All Ultra Enterprise servers feature Sun's new Gigaplane system bus, which provides as much as 2.6G of input/output throughput for symmetric multiprocessing systems, according to Sun.

Digital's TruCluster technology, announced in conjunction with Oracle Corp., offers similar performance and capacity levels by clustering between two and eight AlphaServer 2000 or 8000 systems. TruCluster software costs $15,000 per server for the AlphaServer 2000 Series or $30,000 for the AlphaServer 8000 Series.

Digital originally developed clustering technology for its VMS-based VAX line of minicomputers. Almost 20,000 VAX systems are still in use in federal agencies, many of which are running clusters, according to the company. Migration of many of those users "is definitely part of our business strategy," said James R. O'Neill, vice president and general manager of Digital's Federal Government Region, Greenbelt, Md.

Sun and Digital's new offerings exceed the requirements of standard government contracts, which are primarily workstation-oriented, the vendors said. However, both companies expect a brisk and growing business from federal agencies looking to field very large database and network applications.

Digital sees a number of users looking to migrate from mainframes and other specialty systems.

"Not only are they moving, they are moving rapidly," O'Neill said. "We see it a lot in the intelligence community with Cray computers."

Digital and Sun plan to offer their high-end server products through the General Services Administration's Schedule A.

Mission-Critical Apps

The Sun and Digital products are viable platforms for applications traditionally housed on mainframes, analysts noted. "There is enough power out there to safely run the mission-critical applications that are still on the mainframe," said Bob Sakakeeny, an analyst with the Aberdeen Group, a Boston consulting and research firm.

But despite their capabilities, the new systems will not be running many legacy applications, several analysts said.

"A lot of mainframes are running legacy applications that nobody has any intention of migrating anytime soon," said Jay Bretzman, director of worldwide systems research at International Data Corp., Framingham, Mass.

Among other things, Unix still lacks the mature systems management capabilities that mainframe users expect, Bretzman said.

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