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The 1U (one rack unit) format is designed for high-density server farms. It has a 1.75in-high casing - about the size of a take-away pizza box.
Sun plans to offer the LX50 dual-capable Pentium III server for about £2,150 in September under the Cobalt branding. IBM has countered by releasing the xSeries 335 eServer based on twin Intel Xeon processors for £2,200. The Xeons run at 2.4GHz, which compares favourably with the LX50's PIII chips at 1.4GHz.
Sun has the advantage of having dedicated Linux and Solaris operating systems for its new server. Simon Tindall, volume products manager at Sun, said this means that Sun users can implement Intel servers at the network edge but will only have "one throat to throttle" when it comes to support.
Although it seemed as though Sun was moving Solaris away from Intel platforms after the release of Solaris 8 x86, Tindall said there will be a version based on Solaris 9 available next year.
The initial release of both Sun Linux, based on Red Hat's distribution, and Solaris 9 i86 will only be available on Sun servers. A decision on wider availability will not be taken until September.
Although Sun is using the LX50 server to allow wall-to-wall Solaris across the network, its move towards Linux is seen as dangerous by Philip Carnelley, research director at analyst firm Ovum.
"In the past, Sun has been the 'sports car' vendor of the IT world - selling to a tech-savvy audience that is looking for a technically excellent product, perhaps requiring a little more skill to use than the standard offering, but worth it," he said. "I can see a future where Sun will offer a top-end 'sports car' solution for its technically demanding audience, such as financial services, Cad/Cam, aerospace and telcos, and commodity servers for the rest. But it will have to execute extremely well to beat established players."
IBM is attempting to take advantage of Sun's moves by backing up its xSeries (Intel) servers with a migration team specifically targeting customers choosing to move away from Solaris. Andy Hoiles, IBM's eServer Linux marketing manager, said, "We are aware that some Sun customers have in-house applications so we have formed a Swat team to help with the migration process from proof of concept through to deployment."