The Sun server, to be officially named Cobalt LX50, is the company's first general-purpose server to run Sun Linux and could be attractive to customers looking for a system to handle tasks such as e-mail, file and media serving. The new server will use two 1.4GHz Pentium III processors from Intel and two 72Gbyte hard drives, sources said. Future versions of the server are expected to come bundled with several software packages, including Sun's Grid Engine software, which manages large collections of servers, and Sun ONE Internet server-related software.
The Linux server marks a controversial departure from Sun's focus on its own Solaris operating system and UltraSPARC processors. The company has claimed that the combination of Solaris on the UltraSPARC chips gives it a performance edge over the competition but has since altered this stance to say that Linux running on Intel chips is well-suited to edge computing tasks, such as streaming video or serving e-mail. Sun has used a tweaked version of Red Hat Linux on some server appliances but will use its own Sun Linux on the new servers.
A Sun spokeswoman said the company cannot comment on unannounced products.
Sun's release of its own version of Linux could help bolster the success of the open source operating system, said one analyst, who declined to comment on specific details of Sun's server plans.
"Sun Linux helps further the idea of a Linux ecosystem," said Stacey Quandt, an industry analyst at Giga Information Group. "Now the environment around Linux is much more holistic."
Quandt said that Sun Linux along with Red Hat and UnitedLinux - a version of Linux from a coalition of vendors - should help spur software support for the Linux OS from third parties.
Sun, however, will need to catch up with Red Hat, which has already formed strong relationships with large business software makers like Oracle, Quandt said.
The new Sun server also will shake up the hardware market, in which companies like Dell Computer have been able to muscle in on Sun's business with low-cost machines. Analysts have said that Sun's release of a Linux server is a response to these market pressures.
The use of Intel chips is also somewhat controversial given Sun and Intel's contentious relationship. Intel is looking for its 64-bit Itanium processor to take high-end server market share away from Sun.
The Sun Cobalt LX50 will fit into the low-end of the company's server line. Pricing was not available for the system.