Even as Intel Corp. invades Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Unix-based enterprise server territory, Sun is staging a flanking maneuver to attack the low-end and Web-based server markets that Intel has come to dominate.
In a move that sheds light on its future product direction, Sun this week laid out more details of its processor roadmap, revealing a portfolio heavily populated by entry-level and lower-cost front-end server chips.
Specifically, Sun, Mountain View, Calif., said it will soon roll out a lower-cost family of UltraSPARC IIIi chips ranging from 1.1 to 1.4GHz for Web-based and other large access servers. The company also will introduce an UltraSPARC IIIe processor with 1Mbyte of on-die L3 cache that will sell for less than the existing UltraSPARC III, which has 3Mbytes of L3 memory.
David Yen, vice president of Sun's processor products group, additionally disclosed that the company has signed a letter of intent to acquire Afara WebSystems, a San Jose start-up that is designing its own UltaSPARC proc- essor for Web servers. The deal, for an undisclosed sum, is expected to be completed next month.
Yen said Sun is interested in Afara's unique architecture, but a spokesman later said Sun has not yet decided if the Afara design will become an independent member of the UltraSPARC family or be incorporated into new versions of the existing MPU line.
Yen also said Sun will use 90nm chip processing for the first time-not in its upcoming UltraSPARC V processor but in upgraded versions of existing MPUs.
"In order to make sure the [90nm] process is stable, we want to drive the development work with a known architecture and technology," he said. "That adds more confidence when we move to UltraSPARC V using the same process."
Sun has further plans to expand its line of Linux-based servers into a broad family of products that in effect will extend the line of X86-based servers that it acquired when it purchased Cobalt Systems several years ago.
The company spokesman said Sun hasn't decided whether to use processors from Intel or Advanced Micro Devices Inc. in these systems. Previously, Cobalt servers had used MPUs from both vendors.