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Waves goodbye to 750MHz flavours

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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Sun Microsystems Inc today announces a new member of its Sun Fire server line, the V120, and will also tweak its Netra line to include a NEBS-compliant version of the machine,

Timothy Prickett Morgan writes

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Sun will also announce that it is supporting the 900MHz version of the UltraSparc-III processor in the Netra 20 two-way server, which was announced last October using the 750MHz version of the "Cheetah" processor.

The new server announcements will be interesting to the telecom and service provider sectors, and corporations which buy Sun's entry servers. But the news that Sun will make the 900MHz Cheetah+ chip the base processor in its Sun Fire and Netra product line and will kill off the 750MHz versions of the chip, is interesting to all Sun customers.

This means that Sun has enough confidence in its ability to make the 900MHz parts, which include tweaks to get around bugs in the early 600MHz and 750MHz versions of the Cheetah chips and other performance improvements, that it can remove the slower 750MHz parts from its Sun Fire and Netra product lines.

That doesn't mean that the 900MHz UltraSparc-III processors are the slowest parts that Sun will sell, however. The Sun Fire V120 comes with either a 550MHz or 650MHz version of the Cheetah+ chip, which offers considerably more performance than the 500MHz UltraSparc-IIe processor used in the prior Flapjack servers.

The Netra 120 is only sold with the 650MHz UltraSparc-III chip. These processors offer 512KB of L2 cache memory (1/16th of that in a regular UltraSparc-III processor and twice that offered in the UltraSparc-IIe chip used in the prior entry machines). The base Sun Fire V120 server will sell for $2,495, the same price as the prior generation of machines, even though the base V120 server has 512MB of main memory and 36GB of disk - both that of the machines they replace. The base Netra 120 and Sun Fire V120 with the 650MHz processors, 512MB of memory, and 36GB of disk capacity sells for $3,395.

Laura Finkelstein, product marketing manager at Sun's Volume Systems Products group, said that Sun was bundling its Sun ONE Web server (based on Apache) and ASP software (formerly called Chili!Soft) on the machines for free, which it valued at $2,000.

She says that the Sun Fire V120 with the 650MHz UltraSparc-III processor adds 44% more performance compared to the prior generation of Flapjacks. The expanded memory and disk contribute another 25% to performance, and the improvements that Sun has made with more recent versions of the Apache web server that is integrated into the Sun ONE software contribute another 35% or so in performance on web serving workloads. She says further that when equipped with Sun's Crytpo Accelerator 1000 board, the Sun Fire V120 and Netra 120 servers can offer encrypted SSL web serving performance equivalent to a four-way Intel-based server.

Sun also announced that it will deliver the 900MHz UltraSparc-III processor in the 4U, rack-optimized Netra 20 server, which debuted last October. These machines were launched with 750MHz processors.

Finkelstein said that on floating point workloads as gauged by the SPECfp2000 series of benchmarks, the 900MHz parts offered an average of 72% better performance than the 750MHz parts when used in the Netra 20s. Sun is gaining this performance through improved compilers and tweaks to the UltraSparc-III chips in their prefect algorithms, among other improvements.

Sun is selling the Netra 20s with the 900MHz parts at the same price that it sold using the 750MHz parts, and it is no longer selling the 750MHz parts. There will not be an official price cut on Netra 20s - or indeed on any other Sun servers - using the 750MHz parts, but it is likely that Sun's channel partners will have to cut prices to move whatever older Netra 20s they have in stock.

Finkelstein said further that on SPEC's Web serving benchmarks, the new Netras offer about 20% more performance, which is based almost solely on processor clock speed improvements. The Netra 20 with one processor, 1GB of memory, and 36GB of disk will sell for $11,495; a dual-processor Netra 20 with 2GB of memory and 72GB of disk will sell for $19,995.

The obvious and interesting question about these products, and indeed all of Sun's entry servers, is whether or not they add to Sun's bottom line. While Finkelstein is not at liberty to provide specifics, she wanted to dispel any notion that Sun is using entry servers as a loss leader.

"We are using commodity parts where appropriate, and Sun's own products - like the Solaris operating system and UltraSparc chips - where they can be a key differentiator. This is not a subsidized line, and the margins here are comparable to their brethren in the Volume Systems Products group."

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