Sun Fire servers given speed boost

Sun Microsystems has raised the processor speeds on its midrange server line, hoping to offer users more computing power to...

Sun Microsystems has raised the processor speeds on its midrange server line, hoping to offer users more computing power to handle complex applications.

Sun has already started using 900MHz UltraSparc III processors on its high-end Sun Fire 15K server and will now put the chips in all of its mid-range Sun Fire servers. The company claims the speedier copper-based processors increase performance levels by up to 20% over the previous midrange Sun Fire servers that came with 750MHz chips.

Sun Fire servers are used across several industries and often work with complex applications that require large amounts of computing power. The improved chip speeds should help improve application performance and data processing.

Sun invests heavily in research and development for its UltraSparc processors, which are manufactured by Texas Instruments. While the company constantly highlights the tight link between its processors, the Solaris operating system and its servers, it has fallen behind competitors with its chip performance, according to one industry analyst.

"Today, Sun is in the weakest performance position," said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst with Insight 64.

Users looking for midrange servers with 64-bit processors currently have several options to choose from. For example, IBM recently announced its p690 server which uses either 1.1GHz or 1.3GHz versions of the company's Power4 processor. Hewlett-Packard also makes its own 64-bit PA-RISC chips and recently announced its intention to standardise its server line on Intel's 64-bit Itanium processors.

The intense competition, particularly as Itanium matures, could hurt Sun in the long run, Brookwood said.

Sun should begin using chips from other companies such as Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) in order to eliminate the heavy cost of in-house production, and pass on those savings to its customers, Brookwood said.

"Even if Sun can achieve performance parity, it will still have to develop what other companies can just buy," Brookwood said.

Sun had already pushed the prices down on some of its lower-end servers to better compete with vendors selling Intel-based products, which should please Unix users. The same pricing pattern could follow two or three years down the line as Intel's Itanium servers mature and can compete better against high-end Sun systems, Brookwood said.

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