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Sun offering Solaris update, free trial on servers

Sun will ship out an upgrade to its Solaris 10 OS next month and is offering a free trial on a line of servers to increase its presence in the x86 market.

Sun Microsystems Inc. will release an update to its Solaris 10 OS to support existing customers and is offering a free trial on a line of x86 servers to attract new ones.

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The major highlight of the Solaris update, set to be shipped next month, is a 128-bit file system called ZFS, short for Zettabyte File System, which includes self-healing data and 16 quintillion times more capacity than 64-bit systems.

Sun says ZFS will greatly reduce the time that data center managers spend in organizing file systems. It does that by folding volume management, which designates physical storage space on the hard drive, into the overall file system, making it easier for administrators to deal with.

"Right now, system administrators have to know a great amount of detail about the file system disks," said Chris Ratcliffe, Sun Solaris director of marketing,. "Our goal with ZFS was to hide a lot of that complexity and have the system do that."

Ratcliffe said that with 64-bit systems, administrators can spend up to 40 minutes setting up a file system for a new employee. Under ZFS, he said, the time is cut down "to literally as fast as you're going to type."

According to Tony Iams, vice president and senior analyst with Rye Brook, N.Y.-based Ideas International Ltd., Sun is "somewhat ahead of the curve" with the ZFS.

"It is impressive," he said. "From what they're saying, it does indeed improve manageability."

The file system was first introduced into OpenSolaris in December, an open source project to build developer support of Solaris.

Other features, including an open source database and virtualization, will also be moving over from OpenSolaris. Open source database PostgresSQL will be available with the upgrade due out next month. Virtualization features, including Xen and Sun's BrandZ software, which allows programs to run in so-called "containers" on top of Solaris, will be available late this year or early next.

Try and buy

Sun is also offering a try-and-buy on a line of servers, code-named Galaxy, which it first released in September. The Sun Fire x4100 and x4200 servers are powered by Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s 64-bit Opteron processors that have dual-core capabilities and are Sun's version of the x86 servers.

The 1U x4100 starts at $1,995; the 2U x4200 starts at $2,395.

Iams and Pradeep Parmar, product line marketing manager for Sun's x64 systems, said the free trial is a way for the company to gain ground in a market where it has not traditionally been a big player. The company tried the same trial offer with its UltraSPARC T1 processor servers, the Sun Fire T1000 and T2000.

"Specifically, the new customer target segment will benefit from this try-and-buy program," Parmar said.

Sun says the free offer is for 60 days, but customers have another 30-day grace period afterward before Sun bills them if the server isn't returned. Sun pays for shipping both ways.

Parmar said that Sun sold 81% more x64 servers during the first quarter of this calendar year than the same time period last year.

Matt Eastwood, vice president of enterprise server research for Framingham, Mass.-based IDC, said the reason for such a jump is two-fold: Sun is starting from a small base on the x86 servers and has spent a lot of energy increasing it.

"So the growth is really the result of Sun placing emphasis on a large market where they have historically had very little presence," Eastwood wrote in an e-mail.

Iams said he wasn't sure if free trials for servers was unprecedented, adding that it is an aggressive move by a company looking to make headway. But, he said, it will probably be a while before they catch up with the big dogs in this marketplace, such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard Co.

"They're clearing showing traction and that's a good thing," he said. "The question is how long they can sustain that growth."

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Mark Fontecchio, News Writer

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