Sun, Oracle embark on low-cost computing drive

Admitting it arrived late to the game, Sun Microsystems Inc. on Monday announced new low-cost, rack-optimized servers based on Intel Corp. processors and a partnership with Linux vendor Red Hat Inc., following rivals such as Dell Computer Corp. and IBM Corp.

Also, reaffirming its relationship with Oracle Corp., Sun said Oracle’s software will run on all of its systems whether they run Solaris x86, Solaris SPARC or Linux. Together, Sun and Oracle will go on a low-cost computing drive and launch a joint “Oracle makes Sun unbreakable” advertising campaign, they said.

“We did not exactly jump on the 32-bit low cost bandwagon early, but we’re jumping on it big now,” said Scott McNealy, Sun’s president, chairman and chief executive officer (CEO), at a San Francisco event.

“Maybe we got over-fired up over 64-bit and over-fired up over large scale server models. We are still really bullish about that, but everybody is really looking at low-cost ways to build their computing environments,” McNealy said.

The new Sun Fire V60x and V65x servers are priced starting at US$2,450 and US$2,650, respectively, and come with 2.8GHz or 3.06GHz Intel Xeon processors and a choice of Solaris x86 or Red Hat Linux, Sun said. The systems offer six PCI-X slots, support up to 12GB of memory and are available now. Also, Sun lowered the price of its existing LX50 system by almost 30 per cent, to US$1,995.

McNealy shared the stage with Larry Ellison, Oracle’s chairman and CEO, to show that the two Silicon Valley companies are still good friends. The relationship between Oracle and Sun appeared to cool off somewhat as a result of Oracle’s extended flirt with vendors of low-cost Intel-based servers, which are widely seen as a threat to Sun’s Unix server business.

“Larry bought me three dinners in the last month and a half and they were really nice and I think they are going to pay off for him,” McNealy said, as if Ellison had to make up for something.

Sun, which made large sums of money selling big, costly servers at the height of the technology boom, and Oracle appeared to want to get rid of a perception that the combination of their products with the term “low-cost” is an oxymoron.

“This (announcement) really does serve to put the industry on notice that Sun and its partners are the leaders in low-cost computing,” said Mark Tolliver, executive vice-president of marketing and strategy for Sun.

Still, it appears that Sun has not completely fallen in love with the low-cost computing model, at least not as much as its partner Oracle, said Gordon Haff, a senior analyst with Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H., who followed a Webcast of the event.

“Sun certainly wants us to believe that they are very committed to low-end servers. I think it is fair to say that Sun has a greater focus on low-end servers than in the past. Having said that, Scott (McNealy) did dance around it a bit and it does somewhat beg a question whether Sun feels as strongly as Larry Ellison and Oracle do about this ‘scale-out’ style computing,” he said.

In teaming with Red Hat, Sun is replacing its own Sun Linux. On stage, McNealy put a Red Hat box next to boxes of Sun Solaris. Still, McNealy promoted Solaris as superior to Linux, noted Haff.

“There was on one hand a Red Hat announcement, but on the other hand Sun quite clearly positioned Solaris x86 as kind of the preferred or premier operating system for Intel platforms,” Haff said. “They very much believe in Solaris as their strategic operating system.”

The global partnership with Red Hat calls for Sun to offer Red Hat on its x86 compatible systems and for the Linux vendor to include Sun’s Java Virtual Machine with Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Sun said.