Sun, Compaq servers go head to head

With Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT eating up more of the server market Sun Microsystems Inc. last week made its first major foray into the workgroup server arena with a new low-end Unix system that supports Unix- and PC-based clients.

A day earlier Compaq Computer Corp. unveiled two new high-end models for its ProLiant line of servers. The company also announced a strategic alliance for the enterprise server environment with The Santa Cruz Operation Inc. which makes Unix operating systems that run on Intel chips.

Sun is positioning the Enterprise 450 server - which has a list price starting at $14 650 - to compete with so-called "Wintel" servers which are based on the Windows NT operating system and Intel chips from Compaq Dell Computer Corp. and other PC vendors.

Sun one of the few major systems vendors exclusively selling computers based on reduced instruction-set computing (RISC) chips is looking to capture a PC user base that in the past may not have considered a Unix workgroup server.

"A lot of customers thought if we had a bunch of PCs on desktops that you had to go get a Wintel-environment workgroup server " said John Leahy group manager of communications and government affairs at Sun Federal. "What we are saying is: That is not so. Actually you will get substantially better performance at a comparable price by going with Sun."

The basic configuration of the Enterprise 450 comes with one 250 MHz UltraSPARC-II processor 128M of memory 4G of storage a CD-ROM drive and the Solaris operating system. The system can expand to run up to four 250 MHz or 300 MHz chips with 4G of memory and 84G of storage.

The new server is equipped with Sun's SunLink connectivity software that makes it possible to connect a variety of clients - Windows Windows NT Apple Computer Inc. Macintosh IBM Corp. OS/2 Novell Inc. NetWare and Unix - to a Sun server and access print file and network services.

Sun plans to add the server to most of its existing contracts including Air Force's Workstations NASA's Scientific and Engineering Workstation Procurement II and the Navy's Tactical Advanced Computer-Joint Workstation blanket purchase agreement.

A Good Server for Workgroups

Sun's Computer-Aided Design-2 contract with the Naval Facilities Engineering Command is another prime target Leahy said because Intergraph Corp. the other Navfac CAD-2 contractor sells Windows NT-based workstations.

"It certainly is a good server for the workgroup space " said Joyce Becknell director of distributed computing research at Business Research Group a Newton Mass.-based research and consulting firm.

Although Windows NT will continue to dominate Compaq-based environments the Enterprise 450 will be a strong contender in organizations with a mix of platforms according to Becknell. Most large organizations have a mixed environment "and what they are looking for is systems interoperability " she said.

New ProLiant Servers

Compaq meanwhile added two new models to its ProLiant server line which the company claims will outperform RISC-based servers from Sun and other vendors.

The ProLiant 6500 and 7000 come with up to four 200 MHz Pentium Pro processors with up to 1 024K of cache and up to 4G of memory. Large cache memory can improve performance for many applications.

The 6500 model which comes in a rack-mounted form factor has eight input/output slots including five PCI slots and up to 54G of internal storage. Users can fit up to six 6500 servers in a 19-inch-high rack cabinet. The 7000 model features 11 input/output slots including five PCI slots and up to 109G of storage.

Both models feature Compaq's new PCI "hot plug" slots which allow systems administrators to remove slots for service without bringing down the system Compaq said.

Jerry Sheridan director and principal analyst with Dataquest Inc. a San Jose Calif. research firm said Compaq's new servers fit the company's strategy of tackling the enterprise environment.

"As [Compaq] migrates up the computing hierarchy and starts getting into the enterprise it wants to have the computing power availability and scalability to address that market " Sheridan said. The new systems Sheridan said have "a range of features that would be attractive to that level of computing."

Pricing on the General Services Administration schedule for the ProLiant 6500 is $15 154 with 512K of cache or $18 661 with 1 204K of cache. GSA pricing for the ProLiant 7000 is $17 417 with 512K or $20 924 with 1 024K of cache.

The ProLiant servers run the Windows NT operating system but Compaq also plans to make a big push with Unix as part of an alliance with SCO and its UnixWare offering.

As part of the agreement announced last week the two companies plan to work together on the development of key technologies including management tools and UnixWare system clustering. The alliance also entails joint marketing service and support programs and solutions testing the companies said.

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