Sun debuts midrange servers

Sun Microsystems Inc. has unveiled a new line of midrange servers that the company said will give federal users higher performance and availability features typically found only in mainframe systems.

The new Enterprise servers— including the 3500, 4500, 5500 and 6500— are designed to provide the processing power and reliability needed to run human resources, financial management and other so-called enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications, Sun said. The new servers are available immediately.

Sun also introduced a Java-based systems management product that can be used as a stand-alone solution or in conjunction with other systems management packages.

Government agencies are moving in the direction of consolidating key applications, sparking demand for this class of server, said John Leahy, Sun Federal group manager for government affairs. Federal customers in areas ranging from command and control to tax processing "need to be able to integrate their core functions," Leahy said.

The new midrange server line uses the 336 MHz UltraSPARC processor, which provides up to 43 percent better performance than the company's previous-generation servers, according to Sun. The servers also employ Sun's Gigaplane system bus, which, at 84 MHz to 100 MHz throughput, provides more than three times the bandwidth of Hewlett-Packard Co.'s K-Class servers, the company said.

The server line scales from one to 30 reduced instruction-set computer processors in a single machine. For applications that require high availability, up to four Enterprise servers can be clustered to provide fail-over capabilities, in which the workload of a failed system is automatically picked up by the others.

For even greater availability, the systems feature dynamic reconfiguration and alternative pathing. These features allow managers to remove central processor units or input/output buses and route processing around them without having to bring a system down. DR and AP features for I/O will be available next month, the company says, and the dynamic reconfiguration feature for CPUs will be available later this year.

Such features provide availability that is not found outside mainframe systems, said Joyce Becknell, director of distributed computing research for the Business Research Group, Newton, Mass.

Sun entered the enterprise server space only in the last few years, and this offering consolidates the company's position and lets everyone know it is serious and in the market to stay a threat to stalwarts HP, IBM Corp. and Digital Equipment Corp., Becknell said.

To be a player in the enterprise server arena, a company needs hardware, an operating system, third-party applications and system management tools, which Sun has, Becknell said. High-end applications such as ERP used to be put on the mainframe, but servers such as Sun's can run enterprise applications. Sun also is targeting data warehousing, decision support, Internet/intranets and high-performance computing applications.

The U.S. Postal Service may be an early adopter of the new machines. The agency probably will upgrade its recent Scaleable Midrange Computer award to Sun to encompass the new technology, said John Unekis, an information technology planner for the agency's Information Systems Department in Washington, D.C.

Among other applications, USPS needs district-level servers that can handle such tasks as internal accounting, time and attendance, and some customer accounting functions, Unekis said. The boxes also could function as World Wide Web servers for public access to online mail-tracking functions for such things as parcels and priority mail, he said.

A prospective plant information management system might also be a good fit, Unekis said. This ERP-type application will "allow us to dynamically manage the workload in the [mail] processing plants" on a real-time basis, he said.

Pricing begins at $49,700 for an entry-level 3500 system with two 250 MHz processors and 9G of disk space.

The new hardware will be available on contracts such as NASA's Scientific and Engineering Workstation Procurement II and the Treasury Distributed Processing Infrastructure as well as from resellers on the General Services Administration schedule, according to Sun.

-- Adams is a free-lance writer based in Alexandria, Va. She can be reached at cadams@nmaa.org.

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