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Q&A: How Sun views the low end

Apr 10, 20033 mins

* Q&A with Sun server exec Neil Knox

Network World Senior Editor Deni Connor last week sat down with Neil Knox, Sun’s executive vice president of Volume Systems Products, to talk about Sun server futures. Knox is responsible for the direction of the company’s x86- and SPARC-based one- to eight-processor servers and technical workstations.

NW: I understand you may be coming out with a low-end SPARC system for small and midsized businesses.

Knox: We have a low-end SPARC system today. We are going to refresh it with the latest SPARC chip.

We sell a lot of servers in the sub-$2,000 server space today. This is not a new business for us. All we are doing is taking the latest SPARC chip – the IIIi – and putting it into the packaging and rolling that out.

It’s very much a question of the customer and what the application is. The CIO – when they are making a decision of what to deploy, they are looking at the various advantages of Solaris, being a robust, reliable networking OS, and comparing what they want to do with Linux. Once they’ve made that decision, they can come to us and ask for either product.

 Sun is typically known for its enterprise-level customers – whether they be small, medium or large – so you have to start out with the enterprise environment. Today, with their budgets flat at best, everything is about reducing the cost of complexity. The vendor that is able to take more of their limited money and move it from running their existing systems and move it over to deploying new systems and new services, is the vendor they will make their strategic partner. That’s the business we are in. We are not selling to the onesy-twosy low-end server a customer would typically get from WalMart or Fry’s.

NW: Do you think we will ever see Sun get into the four- to eight-way x86 server environment?

Knox: We never say never, but we have no specific plans at this point.

NW: So, your x86 is a low-end play?

Knox: The sweet spot according to IDC is in the two-way space.

NW: What are some of the characteristics high-end server customers want?

Knox: We’ve taken enterprise-class features from our very big systems and we’ve shrink-wrapped them down into packages like the V880, which is very price-competitive. For the customer looking for enterprise-class reliability and availability and serviceability, but doesn’t want to pay a lot of money, look to the V880.

NW: Do you get involved in determining which processor is used in which computer?

Knox: We basically look at Sun’s entire chip technology portfolio and then take our selection of processors from the SPARC group or any of our x86 partners. We look at it from a systems design. We will take the technology from that and move from there. I have systems using SPARC III as well as SPARC IIIi. We use SPARC II on our server blades.

NW: Are you looking at the AMD Opteron?

Knox: No.

NW: What do you think of the 32/64-bit AMD Opteron technology?

Knox: We are a 64-bit company. The reason we went back to x86 was not that we weren’t happy with our 64-bit architecture, but we saw opportunities for low-cost systems in the 32-bit space, where we could implement an AMD and Intel chip architecture.

NW: How do Sun servers fit into your N1 strategy?

Knox: They are a pivotal part of it, because you have to have a selection of server sizes for the customer.