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Sun Eyes Wall Street In Bid To Regain Share

It was back to the future for Sun Microsystems last week in New York, as the beleaguered company said it would try to recapture its position as the computer company of choice on Wall Street. The strategy, part of an increased research and development push at Sun, aims to use the company's technical chops to set it apart from competitors in markets in which computers and operating systems are becoming commodities.

"We're going back to our roots," says John Loiacono, executive VP of software at 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," Loiacono says.

Sun president Jonathan Schwartz unveiled technology to lure back financial companies.

Schwartz unveiled technology to lure back financial companies.

To lure banks and financial companies back, Sun president Jonathan Schwartz unveiled an industrial-strength version of Sun's Solaris operating system running on Advanced Micro Devices Inc. chips, a processor under development called Niagara that can simultaneously handle 32 threads, and plans for contracts that would let customers buy computing cycles for $1 per CPU per hour. Twenty Wall Street companies are testing the AMD systems, which can "blow the doors off" machines from competitors IBM and Dell, Schwartz says.

Wall Street remains a multibillion-dollar market for Sun, which was a major supplier of high-end workstations and servers to financial-services companies in the early 1980s. That market would be substantially larger if Sun hadn't made a number of miscalculations in the late '90s, Loiacono says. Among the missteps: not adequately addressing the price-performance ratio with its servers and, at one point, discontinuing R&D to make its Solaris operating system easier to use on x86-based systems.

As the market for servers based on the x86 hardware standard promoted by Intel and AMD grows, and sales of systems based on proprietary hardware such as Sun's Sparc microprocessor decline, Sun has needed to make its operating system and other software able to run on industry-standard computers.

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