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Never afraid to embrace the unexpected, Sun Microsystems will hold one of its quarterly product launch events without launching a product.

Sun, which makes the vast majority of its revenue from server sales, will not announce any hardware upgrades during a Tuesday web cast. Instead, Sun will reveal a revamped pricing model for its JES (Java Enterprise System) software package and reiterate plans to build new grid computing centers. Sun will also roll out a "new" services attack that appears very similar to its old attack.

A number of close Sun watchers were expecting a new line of Opteron-based servers to arrive at this week's launch. No such luck. Customers will still have to wait for these boxes - possibly until mid-year, said Sun's chief marketing officer Anil Gadre.

Customers will, however, discover a reworked pricing structure for JES, which used to be sold at $100 per employee per year. That price has been kicked up to $140 per employee per year for the entire JES package.

But Sun has made a concession by ending the all-or-nothing restrictions around JES. Customers can now pick up individual suites for $50 per employee per year. The new suites are as follows:

  • Java Application Platform Suite - which includes Sun's Java System Application Server Enterprise Edition, Java System Web Server, Java System Portal Server, Portal SRA and Portal Mobile Access, Java Studio Enterprise development platform and Java Studio Creator IDE.
  • Java Communications Suite - which includes Sun's Java System Messaging Server, Java System Calendar Server, Java System Instant Messaging, (including synchronization with Microsoft Outlook), Java Studio Enterprise development platform, and Java Studio Creator IDE.
  • Java Identity Management Suite - which includes Sun's Java System Identity Manager, Java System Access Manager, Java System Directory Server Enterprise Edition, Java Studio Enterprise development platform and Java Studio Creator IDE.
  • Java Web Infrastructure Suite - which includes Sun's Java System Web Server, Java System Directory Server Enterprise Edition, Java System Access Manager, Java System Web Proxy Server, Java System Application Server Standard Edition, Java Studio Enterprise development platform, and Java Studio Creator IDE.
  • Java Availability Suite - which includes the Sun Cluster and Sun Agents software along with the Java Studio Enterprise development platform and Java Studio Creator IDE.

"There are lots of customers or departments of large companies that couldn't make a decision on the whole thing," Gadre said. "This makes it easier to get a foothold in those accounts with a smaller package. Now, when you get to three of the suites it makes more sense to buy all of JES at $140."

Close to 350 customers have shelled out for the JES package thus far, leading to a total of 425,000 subscribing employees.

Grid will renting

Closer to the hardware side of the house, Sun added to its grid computing options.

Sun last year made a splash with the $1 per CPU per hour pricing scale for borrowing its servers to crunch through tasks. It promised to extend this type of pricing to the storage realm and has now kicked off a $1 per gigabyte per month plan.

Sun has started building new "Grid Centers" that supply the servers and storage systems to customers. The centers will be located in Virginia, Texas, New Jersey, Canada and Scotland. Sun may look to set up centers in Asia down the road.

"We're going where the action is most likely to be to start with," said Gadre. "We're on the East Coast for the financial services guys and in places like Canada for oil and gas customers."

Those who tap into Sun's Grid Centers simply send data to the systems and let groups of servers crank away at the information. In the storage scenario, Sun obviously holds onto to a customer's data for a period of time.

Away from the kit, Sun touted something it's calling a "new global Client Solutions engagement model," which looks and feels a lot like past services offerings. As best as we can figure, Sun has just slapped labels on specific areas where it would like to service customers. These areas include: Data Center, Enterprise Web Services, Identity Management, Desktop and Mobility, Manageability Services, and Storage and Data Management.

In each of these categories, Sun has a number of pre-configured architectures to choose from. The idea is that Sun will show you a setup that worked for other customers and then help squeeze that setup into your data center. This contrasts to IBM's strategy of customizing a data center to any degree the customer would like, according to Gadre.

Sun's services business has been one of it more consistent performers over the past year, bringing in close to $1bn per quarter. This success has caused Sun to put more and more emphasis on services - a strategy it had typically shied away from, preferring to bash IBM's services attack instead.

Sun holds four of these "Network Computing" events each year in which it usually rolls out a flood of new gear. This is certainly the thinest such event in Sun's history with almost no actual product arriving and much of the news coming from repackaging exercises. Sun has long hyped up its grid computing pricing and evolving services plans. The only real news tidbit comes with the more flexible JES pricing.

Sun will kick off its analyst conference on Wednesday, and we suspect the Wall Street crowd will be unimpressed. ®

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