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New Sun Galaxy servers poised for impact in the Windows enterprise market

With a new line of x86 boxes, will the Windows faithful now take a second look at what Sun has to offer?

Windows shops are faithful to servers from Hewlett-Packard, Dell and IBM. So, just how likely will it be for Sun Microsystems Inc. to get a piece of the action?

Sun begins shipping the first members of its Galaxy server family this month, and Sun executives claim the Galaxy systems are more powerful and have better management capabilities than other comparable machines in the market. The Sun Fire X4100 and X4200 are lower-end machines -- networked computers for data storage and processing that generally cost a few thousand dollars.

Both run on Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s Opteron processor. Sun said more products, including blade servers, will follow in the line.

Sun, until recently, has ignored the x86 platform, focusing instead on SPARC-based servers running its own Solaris version of Unix. The company said it hopes these new boxes will be attractive to Windows-run corporations looking for a high-performance server with a better price than the competition.

[In the area of highly reliable servers] Galaxy could be attractive even for pure Windows, although I suspect much of that market segment is Linux oriented.
Analyst Richard Partridge, Ideas International Ltd.,
Still, in the Windows environment, it will likely be a tough sell.

For some users, there is no reason to reach out to Sun. Dan Stolts, chair of the Boston Area Windows Server User Group, said he thinks Windows shops are happy with the servers they have been using and are not likely to change unless Sun can give some substantial reason.

"The issue is tech professionals tend to use what they know, what they have had a positive experience with," Stolts said.

Gartner Inc., the Stamford, Conn.-based consulting firm, places Sun sixth in its ranking of the x86 server market, with a mere 1.84% of the market share. That is a huge lag behind Hewlett-Packard Co., with 34.23% of the market. Dell Inc. and IBM are in the second and third slots with 23% and 17% market share.

Sun has launched several incentive programs in order to sway the loyalties in the x86 market. The company is offering Dell customers 20% savings on either of the new Galaxy products with the trade-in of a Dell server that's less than five years old. The HP faithful can also trade in Itanium servers and receive discounts on a new Sun Fire machine.

Despite the promotions geared toward Windows shops, the primary operating environments on the Galaxy servers will be Solaris and Linux, said Richard Partridge, a senior analyst with Ideas International Limited of Rye Brook, N.Y.

"Sun targets the subset of customers who seek highly reliable Opteron servers," Partridge said. "In those areas, Galaxy could be attractive even for pure Windows, although I suspect much of that market segment is Linux oriented."

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