As the battle between computer vendors for dominance of the high-end hardware market heats up, banks should be watching carefully, experts said.

Sun Microsystems Inc. made a charge at its competitors this week when it unveiled networked computer systems that are designed to mimic the capacity and reliability of mainframes.

With its high-powered computer server and a high-capacity storage device designed to support "enterprise" network computing, the Mountain View, Calif., company took aim at competitors Digital Equipment Corp., Hewlett- Packard Co., EMC Corp., Compaq Computer Corp., and International Business Machines Corp.

Despite such technological advances, though, some experts are skeptical that banks would want to abandon their investment in mainframes for new and relatively unproven modes of processing.

But with increased reliance on network computing, banks need at least to keep abreast of developments in large-scale computing, experts said.

One of Sun's goals is to encourage banks-many of which use mainframes for everything from transaction processing to the storage of customer information files-to move new banking applications to networks supported by client-server technology.

Consultants and analysts said high-powered servers and distributed networks are likely to become increasingly attractive alternatives to mainframes.

But some questioned whether banks would rush to embrace the new computing options.

"I have mixed feelings about this mainframe issue because they work," said P. Martin Ressinger, analyst at Nesbitt Burns in Chicago. "If I were a banker interested in new applications, I would do it on something I already had in place rather than going out and adding new infrastructure."

Mr. Ressinger said he believes Sun's biggest opportunity in the banking sector may be in devices that support Internet and intranet communications. "That may be Sun's beachhead," he said.

For its part, Sun is presenting its new systems-the Ultra Enterprise 1000, or Starfire, server and the RSM Array 2000 storage device-as a continuation of its focus on network computing.

"It reaffirms and extends Sun's commitment to enterprise computing and the role of open systems," said Cyril Reis, Sun's manager of worldwide banking in Dallas.

"Mainframes clearly have a place doing the high-volume, time-sensitive daily transactions," he said. "But in the future, we think that will be the sole role of the mainframe, and everything else will run in a multitiered environment."

Added Sun president Ed Zander, "This is a whole new area for us. As corporations are building their information technology infrastructures using network models, this is a logical extension of our business line."

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