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By | Ashlee Vance 27th March 2007 21:59

Sun creates new chip unit out of Yen

Open means open for business

Looking to up interest in its processor business, Sun Microsystems has formed a separate microelectronics unit.

The aptly named Microelectronics group will be run by Sun's former UltraSPARC chief David Yen. Ex StorageTek exec Jon Benson will take over Yen's current duties as head of Sun's storage business.

Sun has surrounded the birth of the chip unit with independence rhetoric. The company sees itself preparing for broader interest in SPARC-based chips such as the current UltraSPARC T1 line and the upcoming family of Rock processors.

Sun moved to open source the UltraSPARC T1 design and has enjoyed interest from third parties around the product. A number of universities, for example, has projects underway to fiddle with the processor design and create their own chips.

In addition, Sun has long looked to get its SPARC chips – manufactured by TI – into all kinds of gear, ranging from printers to networking equipment.

Sun feels that forming the separate chip unit sends a message of openness and decoupledhood to potential partners.

Yen ran Sun's UltraSPARC server business before turning over the duties to current server chief John Fowler, who handles SPARC and x86 systems. The unlucky Yen was then given the unfortunate task of heading Sun's underachieving storage unit. The shift back to chips should prove a better fit for Yen, since his real expertise rests in silicon.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Benson.

For the full spin, we turn to the Sun chief Jonathan Schwartz.

"The broad acceptance of the open source Solaris operating system running on Dell, HP and IBM hardware shows that Sun's innovations have value and appeal beyond our own servers and storage products," said Schwartz.

"[sic] With numerous successes including the success of our UltraSPARC T1 processors fueling the growth of our chip multi-threaded servers, the tapeout of our Rock processors defining new terrain in high-productivity computing, and innovations like Project Neptune opening entirely new markets for our technology [/sic]. Now is the time to fuel that same success with our Microelectronics products. As with our software, decoupling our silicon from a strict reliance on Sun's systems raises our profile and opportunity globally."

(The Project Neptune reference seems very relevant to Sun's chip unit announcement. It's not too hard to imagine another company picking up the fancy, albeit abortionally named NIC.)

Starting this year, Sun will rely on Fujitsu for mainstream SPARC parts in its midrange and high-end servers. Sun and Fujitsu share the cost of designing and manufacturing those SPARC64 chips. ®

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