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View from the Hill - #2

Sun Microsystems needs Intel and Microsoft to be successful to fuel the insatiable demand for SPARC servers.

November 1999:- This is a column by Zsolt Kerekes publisher of the SPARC Product Directory.
See also:- article:- SPARC versus Intel Merced comparisons from - Sun Microsystems,
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Most companies above a certain size inevitably become owners of large amounts of data in relational databases. SPARC machines started out as the computer market's most cost effective database servers. Eventually, as SPARC displaced other minicomputer and high end server architectures the leading database publishers started to release the newest versions of their software on Solaris / SPARC first. In December 1993, new entries in this directory included massively parallel SPARC systems from Cray Computer (this technology was absorbed by Sun Microsystems), and ICL.

Later... August 2001 - nearly 2 years after writing this article, as the IT recession in the US seems to get deeper, the title of this article seems to hit the nail right on the head. Whereas most PC server companies were reporting quarterly revenues 10% lower than the previous year, Sun's results were down 20%. It wasn't a surprise that Sun would suffer from the loss of dotcom business, but the underlying reality that lower PC sales would translate directly into lower SPARC server sales was confirmed in these results. The fortunes of the SPARC server market are directly linked to the fortunes of the Wintel desktop... QED

That meant SPARC became one of the most powerful database servers regardless of how much money you had to spend. Today the domination of SPARC in the web server and ISP markets, simply continues this trend for another couple of product generations.

Friends in the PC market used to ask me years ago, "Why are you wasting your time with this Sun SPARC stuff? Isn't Sun going to be trashed by IBM or DEC?" - Well as we've all seen, things didn't quite happen that way. My answer used to be that "Every time the Wintel market ships another 10 million PC's - that creates a demand for another 50,000 or so SPARC servers."

The reality of the computer market is that the Intel PC running an operating system from Microsoft IS the most versatile and lowest cost computing platform on the desktop. And inside companies which have large numbers of PC's - SPARC servers running Solaris ARE the most reliable, economic and powerful servers of choice for those desktops.

Even sales of Intel PC's to consumers at home, help the SPARC market to grow. When millions of users at home go to visit search-engines like Excite or Infoseek to find products and then go to large ecommerce sites like Amazon and eBay to buy them, most of them go via SPARC servers in their ISP, SPARC servers at the search-engine, and SPARC servers where they shop. Other technologies can also do this work. But in most cases, if the server load is projected to be large and fast growing, then the IS manager knows that a SPARC system does the job more reliably, with a quicker integration time, at lower cost (and less risk of losing his/her job by a failed system).

If Intel and Microsoft weren't churning out those low cost affordable PC's by the tens of millions, there wouldn't be a need for so many high end SPARC servers. Yes, life would be easier for Sun resellers if they didn't have to worry about entry level NT servers. But Linux on Intel PC's is a far more serious threat to the low end server market. Hey, you get ten Linux PC servers in an organization, and what's going to be the best box to manage them? Probably another SPARC...

I don't know what the ratios of PC's to SPARC systems are today, but the time to start worrying about the future of SPARC would be if those PC sales ever started to slow down...Luckily, the mobile phone guys and the cellular communications networks use a lot of SPARC stuff too...

More views from the hill...

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For large systems, Solaris on SPARC will continue to be a better choice than NT for many years. These are the real reasons why...

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Next month's View from the Hill will suggest:- Should Sun Microsystems make its own brand of "Intel Inside®" PC's? Sun could become a successful PC supplier a lot more easily than you might think... But does this make sense from a strategic business point of view?

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