Sun Microsystems will next week take the penultimate step in its UltraSPARC III strategy, with the launch of Unix midframe multiprocessor systems, based on the new 64-bit processor.The UltraSPARC III is Sun's most advanced chip and phase one of the rollout saw it start appearing in workstations and low-end servers last November. A 900mhz version of the copper-based UltraSPARC III is expected to be used in the new servers which are to be unveiled on 21 March. Phil Dawson, analyst at Meta Group, said the completion of Sun's three stage rollout will bring added value from its high-end mainframe servers. This will be in the form of a switch-based fabric and high availability, down to the mid-range - hence the term "midframe" coined by Sun. Sun's product will be in direct competition with IBM RS/6000 systems and will offer users an alternative to Microsoft. Dawson predicted it is likely to overlap in these terms with Sun's existing UltraSPARC II-based high-end server range until the end of the year when the high-end UltraSPARC III systems are to be launched. Users who buy these new mid-range systems will have to upgrade to the Sun Solaris 8 operating system as this is the only one supported on the UltraSPARC chip, but Dawson does not think that this will pose a problem or hinder sales. He said: "It absolutely has to be successful. There has been some slippage on UltraSparc III so they've got some ground to make up, but I think the new systems will help address that."