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Sun to replace excuses with loads of Opteron gear

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Looked at in isolation, these boxes are nothing more than Sun filling out its fledgling x86 lineup. There, however, does seem to be a much larger story at hand.

Sun's new Opteron gear along with its UltraSPARC T1-based servers will have to carry the vendor until the Rock processor family arrives in 2008.

We'll grant you that "carry" seems an odd word choice there given that the standard UltraSPARC-based server sales still make up the vast majority of Sun's revenue. And that's not likely to change as Sun goes through the awkward process of trading in UltraSPARC IV for Fujitsu's flavor of SPARC.

But Sun can't afford to keep coasting as it has done over the past couple of years.

The company kept promising customers, analysts and reporters that it was preparing a bright future to make up for a large post-bubble strategy misfire. It went x86. It bought multi-core SPARC specialist Afara. It brought Andy Bechtolsheim back home. Sun even went so far as to send Scott McNealy upstairs and give Jonathan Schwartz the CEO post, with both men saying that Schwartz would reap the rewards of Sun's two-year stabilization effort.

Sun has now tossed out a few "iPod moments," as it likes to call them. You have the UltraSPARC T1-based servers, an eight-socket Opteron box and the x4500 system. All of these systems are unique compared to what other Tier 1s are offering, and unique has served Sun well in the past.

It's hard to imagine Sun looking that much better than it does today without two or even all three of these new boxes taking off.

Granted, Sun's rapidly growing mainstream x86 server line will provide the most significant boost to revenue gains. But that's going to be a real slugfest where Sun has to go up against IBM, HP and Dell – all of which support both Xeon and Opteron.

For Sun to stand-out again and to drive interest in Solaris, which is key to the company's future, it must have an exceptional, surprising seller. It needs some systems that really capture customers' attention and separate Sun from the herd.

Investors don't seem to think Sun has an iPod moment in the works. They sent shares of Sun below the $4 mark today for the first time since December of last year.

We know that Sun insiders are tired of being beaten up in the press. They're tired of being counted out as DEC junior.

Well, Sun's test to prove the critics wrong begins next week. The company will have completed its most major product revamp since the dotcom bust.

The time to make excuses will have come to an end. ®

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