Competitors aim to give Sun a run in server market

Sun Microsystems is clearly the leader in the Unix server market, but 2001 could be an interesting year as IBM, Compaq Computer and Hewlett-Packard try to woo customers with recently refreshed products.

          Sun Microsystems is clearly the leader in the Unix server market, but 2001 could be an interesting year as IBM, Compaq Computer and Hewlett-Packard try to woo customers with recently refreshed products.

          IBM has been especially aggressive in highlighting customer wins it has claimed thanks to its new s80 Unix server and its positioning of mainframes as viable Linux servers. Among the customers trotted out by IBM last week were Telia, the Swedish ISP and telephone company provider, and Budget Rent A Car.

          Sun last week touted the latest numbers reported by research firm IDC that show its Unix server sales growing from $US1.7 billion during last year's third quarter to $US2.8 billion in the recently ended third quarter, a 64% leap.

          But while Sun has talked about its new UltraSparc III systems since January, the company has yet to begin shipping key servers such as the Sun Fire 280R, a workgroup machine that can include up to two 750-MHz processors.

          Meanwhile, Sun's major competitors have come out with improved high-end offerings in the past year: Compaq's Wildfire, HP's Superdome and IBM's s80 and h80.

          IBM last week said Telia plans to use its S/390 mainframe running Linux. For months IBM has been pitching the advantages of running Linux on its mainframes, such as getting advanced diagnostic capabilities and being able to consolidate servers. Telia plans to consolidate a handful of servers into a single mainframe Linux server running VPN and other 'Net connectivity software. Telia will also be able to manage those applications from a single console, reducing its administration overhead.

          At PalTalk.com, a firm that provides voice and video over the internet, CEO Jason Katz says IBM and Sun Unix machines were considered. Despite the systems costing about the same, PalTalk.com went with IBM's two-processor s80 because it could be expanded to support data growth moreso than Sun's system, he says.

          "For us, it was a matter of going with yesterday's technology or tomorrow's," Katz says. "Both companies came in aggressively, but I think this is personal for IBM because they finally have a product putting them at a reasonable advantage."

          At Budget, Sun and IBM are part of the installed server base. Sun recently had the chance to compete with IBM to run the car rental company's data warehouse and resource management applications. Budget compared a Sun Enterprise 6500 server with IBM's s80 and chose the s80 for price and performance reasons.

          Rick Hankins, senior applications manager at Budget, says his company remains committed to Sun for a number of applications, including some at its reservations centres. But he notes that IBM "bent over backwards" for Budget - even providing free AIX training for employees at the company to which Budget outsources some systems management.

          "We will be watching to see how Sun reacts to the product refreshes from IBM, HP and Compaq in an attempt to maintain its leadership," says IDC analyst Vernon Turner. According to the research firm, IBM has 23% of the Unix server market share worldwide, while Sun has 39%.

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