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Sun Microsystems has sold 2m UltraSPARC IIIs and isn't ready to quit hawking the chips just yet.

Sun today refreshed the low-end of its SPARC server line with 1.5GHz versions of the UltraSPARC IIIi processor. That gives the new Sun Fire V215, V245 and V445 systems a modest performance boost over their predecessors that ran on 1.35GHz chips. Beyond the chips, the new systems also boast PCI-X and PCI Express for I/O rather than just PCI in the old gear.

Once upon a time, Sun looked to slot the UltraSPARC IIIi+ processors into its low-end servers. In fact, it had planned to put the zippier chip into gear at the end of 2005. But here we are close to a year later, and Sun has scrapped the UltraSPARC III+ altogether in favor of putting money and effort behind the new UltraSPARC T1 line - aka Niagara.

Sun's server chief John Fowler conceded that "more performance would be better" in the short-term for the low-end systems. Customers have complained to us about the lack of a real speed infusion. Fowler, however, thinks customers are looking for more than just horsepower these days.

"I think the UltraSPARC III line has a really strong reputation with customers for being bulletproof," he said. "We get notes all the time about systems that have not been rebooted in five or seven years."

He then added, "We see Niagara II giving the really big performance boost at the low end." So, happy waiting until next year, friends.

The V215 starts at $4,000 with one of the 1.5GHz chips, 1GB of memory and one 73GB drive. The V245 starts at $4,600 with the same, basic configuration, and the V445 starts at $16,000 with two 1.59GHz chips, 4GB of memory and two 73GB drives.

Sun has long depended on strong low-end SPARC server sales to help it battle against the likes of IBM and HP. Both of Sun's rivals have arguably done more to jazz up their low-end hardware in recent months, especially with the dual-core version of Itanium beginning its journey downstream.

During an event today in New York, Sun rolled out a few more systems to complement the bread and butter SPARC gear.

Sun has slotted the multi-core UltraSPARC T1 chip into its teclo-focused Netra server line. Customers can buy rack mount or ATCA versions of the servers powered by four-, six- and eight-core chips. The UltraSPARC T1 has proved a big hit for Sun thus far with the company selling more than $100m worth of systems.

At Sun's event, some guru from MLB.com popped on stage to tout the wonders of Sun's new servers. MLB Advanced Media plans to run its web properties on the UltraSPARC T1-based gear, he said. Here's hoping the kit will improve the disaster that is MLB.com.

Also on the hardware front, Sun shoved a 1.34GHz version of the UltraSPARC IIIi chip into its Ultra 25 workstation. The product starts at $2,895.

Storage aficionados may be impressed with Sun's new "device-level tape encryption with key management" on the StorageTek T10000 tape drive and a fresh virtual tape library that runs Solaris 10.

We won't pretend to be security gurus, so you'll have to put up with a bit of marketing speak.

"The Sun StorageTek Crypto Key Management Station (KMS) provides a simple, secure solution for managing keys used to encrypt and decrypt data on the StorageTek T10000 tape drive. Comprising a Sun Ultra 20 Workstation-based appliance running the Solaris 10 OS and Key Management Software, the Sun StorageTek KMS allows customers to upgrade their environments seamlessly without requiring changes to the operating system, backup software or tape libraries. The solution utilizes AES-256 encryption and is designed for compliance with the Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 140-2 certification."

It's seamless and simple. How can you go wrong? Cough.

We're also told that the new StorageTek VTL Plus appliance, "delivers 2x the mean time between repair (MTBR) of most other VTLs, including those from EMC and IBM."

The New York event stands as Sun's annual pilgrimage to Wall Street. The company has spent the last few years trying to warm the hearts of the financial services giants that made it rich during the boom and then shelved thousands of Sun's systems in favor of Linux during the bust. Sun's Wall Street pitch seems to have been working of late with its server sales and stock price rising again.

The fun, however, could be short-lived. Sun, for example, has started hailing its hybrid server/storage box - the x4500 - as a "Web 2.0 server" just because some hippie book publisher thought that was a cool name. We suggest Sun start focusing on being the "revenue in server revenue" rather than the "flash in the pan in Web 2.0 fluff."

You can catch the unnamed publisher and the rest of Sun's song and dance here. ®

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