Sun Microsystems is set to continue its fight for the volume systems market with three new products, including a new four-way server priced under US$10,000.

The Sun Fire V440 will be one of three new systems the hardware vendor plans to unveil at its Sun Network show in San Francisco on Wednesday. Also planned, is the Sun Blade 1500 workstation and the first update to Sun's line of tower servers since the late 1990s: The Sun Fire V250.

The V440 is a rack mounted system that will have less memory and less powerful processors than Sun's current entry-level four-way offering, the V480. But with the list price ranging between $10,000 and $26,000 it will also be much less expensive, said Souheil Saliba, the vice president of marketing and strategy for Sun's volume system products. "The 480 and the 440 address two different spaces," he said, "The 440 is essentially half the price point of the 480."

One of the chief differences between the two systems will be at the microprocessor level. The V440 will use the UltraSparc IIIi processor with 1MB of L2 cache per processor. The V480 uses the UltraSparc III with 8MB of cache per chip.

Volume systems are an increasingly important market for Sun, as IT managers are shifting their buying from Sun's traditional midrange and high end systems to less expensive machines like the V480 and V440, according to IDC analyst Jean Bozman. "IT managers are generally adding to their infrastructure by adding servers that way because there's so much pressure on IT budgets," she said.

"Volume servers are selling well in general, and Sun has had success in the volume server space," she said, noting that the V480 has sold well since its introduction in June of 2002.

But Sun's developing software strategy will play an increasingly important role in helping the computer company to compete with rivals like Dell, according to the IDC analyst. "Clearly they have to provide competitive prices," she said. "At the same time, they're saying that a lot of the value that you get in these systems will come from the system software."

Sun has also announced plans to deliver an integrated stack of server software, called the Java Enterprise System, under a simplified $100 per employee pricing scheme. This software will include dozens of server products, including the Sun ONE application server and Sun's clustering and directory software.

Also expected on Wednesday, Sun's new V250 tower server will represent the computer maker's first major upgrade to its line of tower servers since the late 1990s, according to Saliba. "We did not bring out a follow-on to the E250 and E450. It turned out that that was probably not the best thing to do," he said.

Continued demand for the E250 and E450 as a workgroup server in Asian and European countries caused Sun to reconsider its withdrawal from the tower market, he said.

Sun will also unveil a low-end technical workstation, called the Sun Blade 1500. This system will use the UltraSparc IIIi processor and be priced at under $3,000.