After leaving the 32-bit server market behind more than 10 years ago, one of the industry’s best-known hardware companies wants to reclaim some entry-level customers.

Sun Microsystems Inc. Monday launched the LX50, an enterprise product based on the 2.4 Linux kernel. Sun will also offer the

LX50 on the x86 version of its flagship Solaris operating system. The company said the pizza box-sized server runs on single or dual 1.4GHz x86 processors and can be configured with up to 6GB of memory and 216GB of internal storage.

Scott McNealy, Sun’s chief executive, said he was reluctant to admit that the company may have missed out on a valuable market share opportunity when it dropped its last 32-bit server line in 1990.

You won’t hear me say this very often, but I was wr-wr-wr-wrong,” he joked. “We kind of gave up on the 32-bit space and said everybody’s going to go 64-bit. Well, it’s not true. There’s going to be the spectrum from two-bit to 128-bit for the rest of our careers.”

Application servers, blade servers and virtualization architectures are all creating better opportunities for the 32-bit space, McNealy added, and users in the two-way space can get better price-performance on systems that only scale to two-way and only use 32 bits.

“The last 32-bit server we shipped was a 68020 workstation with the head chopped off, basically,” he said, while the LX50 will be able to take advantage of the x86 hardware that is out there from AMD or Intel and adapt it with Linux and Solaris 9. IDC estimates that Linux-based servers are exploding at 15 -20 per cent every year.

While McNealy has renewed faith in the 32-bit market, at least one Canadian firm disagrees. M4 Technologies in Ottawa deals regularly in refurbished Sun equipment, including servers. Mac Brown, the company’s president, says there are too many higher-end alternatives available at lower prices.

“We’ve got three buyers on the road that just go to dot-com bombs and buy equipment. They’d be buying the latest and greatest,” he said. “Any Sun customer that exists today, they’d go 64 right away.”

Software applications for the LX50 include: Java 2 SDK Standard Edition, Sun One ASP for Linux, TomCat (JSP), MySQL (Database) and Apache Webserver, among others. Canadian list pricing starts at $4,670. McNealy said the company would be turning to ISPs, integrators and its value-added reseller network to get the product to customers.

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