Sun returns to its server roots

If we want to compete better with the likes of IBM, HP and Dell, we need a more open approach, admits Sun

Sun returned to its roots this week when it launched a suite of servers with a greater emphasis on open architecture, in a bid to reclaim the financial market sector it once dominated.

In a briefing in London on Wednesday, the infrastructure supplier outlined its strategy to target the financial, telecoms and government market sectors and take on IBM, HP and Dell in the 64-bit server market.

The return of co-founder, chief architect and senior vice-president, Andrew Bechtolsheim — the brains behind Galaxy, Sun's new suite of entry-level servers — marks a notable shift away from its current proprietary systems that lock users into the Sun suite of software, and towards more open standards, similar to its earlier servers.

The new enterprise class Sun Fire Series x2100, x4100 or x4200 servers, based on AMD Opteron processors, support multiple operating systems including Linux, Windows and Solaris.

Sun's current business servers are based on its Sparc processors and are principally designed to run Solaris, Sun's version of the Unix operating system.

Michael Avis, marketing and strategy director at Sun, admitted the vendor got things wrong in the past and now faces a tough fight to keep pace with IBM, HP and Dell in the server market. "We weren't able to keep costs down or keep the cost structure we had so we became unprofitable. We're now entering a market segment where Sun doesn't have a presence," he said.

The supplier is moving towards a service oriented architecture (SOA) model in which Sun will support service providers who will provide the technology for smaller companies to use as they need it.

This on-demand model is key to Sun's future, Avis added. "People won't want IBM to manage the data centre for them anymore. They will want an open architecture and pay for support separately. We are already part of that community — we've made Solaris free to use and given away the source code."

Sun's focus is now on working with other vendors rather than against them, and it has ended its insistence on building systems that lock users into Sun's other products. Its once bitter feud with Microsoft has now been diffused with the new Galaxy server range supporting Windows as well as Linux and Solaris.

"We're turning innovation into a business that makes money. Our lead message is about participation, and we can help people participate in a new network age," said Avis.