It was back to the future for Sun Microsystems as it conducted its quarterly product launch this week in New York, where the company pledged to continue its efforts to recapture its onetime dominance among financial-services companies.
"We're going back to our roots," says John Loiacono, executive VP of software for Sun. "By taking our eye off the ball and not meeting some of the demand, we let business slip away. Now we're ready to take that business back."
To lure them back into the fold, Jonathan Schwartz, president and chief operating officer, unveiled an industrial-strength version of Sun's Solaris operating system that, when paired with high-performance hardware such as Opteron processors from Advanced Micro Devices Inc., he claimed would "blow the doors" off competing systems from IBM and Dell. Sun says 20 Wall Street companies are testing the Solaris/Opteron systems.
Schwartz also showed off a processor under development called Niagara that can simultaneously handle 32 threads, or processes. The processor is especially suited for applications such as E-mail and calendaring that tend to reside in memory for long periods of time.
Sun also unveiled new four- and eight-way versions of its Sparc-processor systems, plus an agreement with backup provider SunGard Data Systems Inc. to provide business-continuity services at a reach of 240 miles from downtown Manhattan, addressing a concern that has persisted since Sept. 11, 2001.
To cap it off, Schwartz offered a peek into a utility-computing model based on Sun's N1 grid-computing system, which will let customers buy computing cycles for $1 per CPU per hour rather than make costly data-center upgrades. Its appeal to Wall Street is grounded in offering low-cost power for computing-intensive apps such as risk modeling and trading analysis. Such applications can account for 10% to 15% of a trading company's processing needs. That could add up to a lot of CPU cycles at a dollar a pop.
Separately, the company revealed that investment bank BNP Paribas has acquired more than 100 Sun Opteron-based servers.
At Tuesday's presentation, Miriam Soza, senior VP of systems development at Thomson Corp., a financial information services company, said the firm had achieved breakthrough performance on the systems that run its core real-time market-data systems using the Solaris 10/Opteron system.
Wall Street remains a multibillion-dollar market for Sun, which originally was a major supplier of workstations and servers to financial-services companies, Loiacono says. That market would be substantially larger if Sun hadn't made a number of miscalculations in the late 1990s that led to an erosion of its position, he says.
Among the missteps was not adequately addressing the price and performance equation with its servers and discontinuing research and development to make its Solaris operating system easier to use on x86-based systems.
Gordon Haff, an analyst with research firm Illuminata, says he isn't sure how big an impact opening up Solaris will make. "It's really a play for the development community," he says. "Sun used to be the most popular Unix development platform, and it's really been upstaged by Linux in particular and open source in general. I'm not sure this makes a practical difference, but it's a mindshare game and potentially puts IBM and [Hewlett-Packard] on the defensive to be more open."
By bringing its road show to New York, Sun is clearly trying to make a statement, Haff says. "Sun had fairly loyal customers in the financial-services community that have moved at least part of their operations to Linux and x86 because running on those platforms was cheaper," Haff says. "Solaris x86 gives Sun quite a strong entree back in."
Sun also revealed the StorEdge 6920 system, a midrange product; the StorEdge 9990, a high-end enterprise platform with virtualization capabilities; and the StorEdge 5210 NAS, with heterogeneous operating-system support. The StorEdge 6920 will be available with a utility, pay-for-use option starting at 80 cents per Sun power unit per month, including hardware, software, installation, and support.