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|Type:||Public (NASDAQ: SUNW)|
|Headquarters:||Santa Clara, California, USA|
|Key people:||Scott McNealy, Chairman
Jonathan I. Schwartz, President and CEO
Crawford W. Beveridge, Executive Vice President, People and Places, and CHRO
Greg Papadopoulos, Executive Vice President and CTO
|Industry:||Computer hardware, software|
|Products:||computer servers and workstations and supporting software, Java language, and more|
|Revenue:||US$11.07 billion (2005)|
|Operating income:||US$377.0 million (2005)
(-4.9% operating margin )
|Net income:||US$107.0 million (2005)
(-4.4% profit margin )
Sun Microsystems, Inc. (NASDAQ: SUNW) is a vendor of computers, computer components, computer software, and information-technology services, founded in 1982 and headquartered in Santa Clara, California, in Silicon Valley. Sun's manufacturing facilities are located in Hillsboro, Oregon and Linlithgow, Scotland.
Sun's products include computer servers and workstations based on its own SPARC and AMD's Opteron processors, the Solaris Operating System, the NFS and ZFS network file systems, the Java platform as well as numerous software applications.
The initial design for what became Sun's first Unix workstation was conceived by Andy Bechtolsheim when he was a graduate student at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. He originally designed this "68000 Unix system" for the communications project Stanford University Network, building it from spare parts resourced from the Department of Computer Science  and Silicon Valley supply houses. The first Sun workstations ran a Version 7 Unix System port by Unisoft on 68000 processor-based machines.
In February 1982, Bechtolsheim, fellow Stanford graduate students Vinod Khosla and Scott McNealy, and UC Berkeley's Bill Joy (a primary developer of BSD Unix), founded the company now known as Sun Microsystems.
The company name is derived from the initials for Stanford University Network, also reflected in the company's stock symbol, SUNW, which now stands for Sun Worldwide.
Other Sun luminaries include early employees John Gilmore and James Gosling. Sun was an early advocate of Unix-based networked computing, promoting TCP/IP and especially NFS, as reflected in the company's motto "The Network Is The Computer". James Gosling led the team which developed the Java programming language. Most recently, Jon Bosak led the creation of the XML specification at W3C.
Sun's logo, which features four interleaved copies of the word sun, was designed by professor Vaughan Pratt, also of Stanford University. The initial version of the logo had the sides oriented horizontally and vertically, but it was subsequently redesigned so as to appear to stand on one corner.
For the first decade of Sun's history, the company was predominantly a vendor of technical workstations, competing successfully as a low-cost vendor during the Workstation Wars of the 1980s. Its customer base has been loyal; reasons are the perceived reliability and stability, of its SunOS (and later Solaris) versions of Unix.
Sun originally used the Motorola 68000 CPU family for the Sun-1 through Sun-3 computer series. The Sun-1 employed a 68000 CPU, the Sun-2 series, a 68010. The Sun-3 series was based on the 68020, with the later Sun-3x variant using the 68030.
x86 (part 1)
In the late 1980s, Sun also marketed an Intel 80386-based machine, the Sun386i; this was designed to be a hybrid system, running SunOS but at the same time supporting DOS applications. This only remained on the market for a brief period of time. A followon 486i upgrade was announced but only a few prototype units were ever manufactured.
Starting with the Sun-4 line, the company used its own processor architecture, SPARC, a 32-bit RISC architecture which was later to become the IEEE 1754 standard for microprocessors. A 64-bit extension of the SPARC architecture (SPARC V9) was later introduced.
Sun has implemented multiple high-end generations of the SPARC architecture, including SPARC, SuperSPARC, UltraSPARC I, UltraSPARC II, UltraSPARC III, UltraSPARC IV and currently UltraSPARC IV+ & UltraSPARC T1. Sun has developed several generations of workstations and servers, including the SPARCstation series, Sun Ultra series the Ultra Enterprise (later, simply "Enterprise") servers, the Sun Blade workstations and the Sun Fire servers. There is also a line of lower cost processors meant for low-end systems which include the microSPARC I, microSPARC II, UltraSPARC IIe, UltraSPARC IIi, and UltraSPARC IIIi.
In the late 1990s the company successfully transformed itself into a vendor of large-scale Symmetric multiprocessing servers. Sun had designed and built its own 20-processor system, the SPARCcenter 2000; this transition was accelerated by the acquisition of Cray Business Systems from Silicon Graphics. The followon to the Cray CS6400 server line, which had been jointly designed by Cray and Sun, was transformed into the very successful Sun Enterprise 10000 large-scale servers. Driven by the increased prominence of web-serving database-searching applications, blade servers (high density rack-mounted systems) were also emphasized.
The UltraSPARC T1 is notable for its use of eight cores (with four threads per core). This is part of an industry move toward horizontal rather than vertical scaling, i.e. the use of more CPUs with lower clock rates. This is of particular importance to data centers where air-conditioning and hardware power consumption is now a major cost which must be addressed.
In Dec. 2005, Sun announced the OpenSPARC T1, an opensource hardware design of UltraSPARC T1. Additional details can be found at http://www.opensparc.net .
x86 (part 2)
Sun's brief first foray into x86 systems ended in the early 1990s, when it was decided to concentrate on SPARC and retire the last Motorola systems and 386i products (this move was dubbed by McNealy as "all the wood behind one arrowhead"). Even then, Sun kept its hand in the x86 world, as a release of Solaris for PC compatibles began shipping in 1993.
In 1997 Sun acquired Diba, followed later by the acquisition of Cobalt Networks in 2000, with the aim of building network appliances (single function computers meant for consumers). Sun also marketed a network computer (diskless workstation, as popularized by Oracle Corporation CEO Larry Ellison). Although none of these business initiatives were particularly successful, the Cobalt purchase gave Sun a toehold for its return to the x86 hardware market.
In 2002, Sun introduced its first general purpose x86 system, the LX50. The next year, it announced a strategic alliance with AMD to produce market-leading x86/x64 servers based on AMD's Opteron processor, followed shortly by its acquisition of Kealia, a startup founded by original Sun founder Andy Bechtolsheim, which had been focusing on high-performance AMD-based servers.
On September 12, 2005, Sun unveiled a new range of Opteron based servers, the Galaxy X4100 and X4200 servers, and the Aquarius X2100 server. These have been designed from scratch by the team led by Bechtolsheim to address heat and power consumption issues commonly faced in datacenters and were the first servers to display Sun's new brushed aluminium design. In July 2006, the Galaxy X4500 and X4600 systems were introduced, extending what is now a successful line of x64 systems that support not only Solaris, but Linux and Microsoft Windows as well.
Sun is most well known for its Unix systems, which have a reputation for system stability and a consistent design philosophy.
For a short period in the mid-1980s, 51% of Sun stock was held by AT&T as a partner in their computer business AT&T Computer Systems. UNIX System V Release 4 (SVR4) was jointly developed by AT&T and Sun; this partnership triggered concern among Sun's competitors, many of whom banded together to form the Open Software Foundation (OSF). By the mid-1990s, the ensuing Unix wars had largely subsided, AT&T had sold off their Unix interests, and the relationship between the two companies was significantly reduced.
Sun used SVR4 as the foundation for Solaris 2, which became the successor to SunOS.
Sun offers a secure variant of Solaris called Trusted Solaris. Solaris 10 includes many of the same capabilities as Trusted Solaris, and it has been announced that a Solaris 10 update will give it additional capabilities to make it the functional successor to Trusted Solaris.
Sun is also known for community-based and open-source licensing of its major technologies. Though a late adopter, it includes Linux as part of its strategy, following several years of difficult competition and loss of server market share to Linux-based systems. Blastwave compiles and packages open source software for Solaris machines, and has automated software consistency tracking, upgrading and completing dependencies as part of the upload process. Recently, Sun has offered Linux-based desktop software called Java Desktop System (originally code-named "Madhatter") for use both on x86 hardware and on Sun's Sun Ray thin-client systems. It has also announced plans to supply its Java Enterprise System (a middleware stack) on Linux. It has already the released the source code for its newest OS, Solaris 10, under the open-source Common Development and Distribution License.
The Java programming language took the best features from the industry standard language C++ and removed nearly all of its more difficult or unsafe features, such as pointers and operator overloading. Backed with a massive class library, Java programs can call upon a large set of GUI, mathematical and Internet access code that is tried and proven.
The Java platform, developed at Sun in the early-1990s, was developed with the objective of allowing programs to function regardless of the device they were used on, sparking the slogan "Write once, run everywhere". While this objective has not been entirely achieved (prompting the riposte "Write once, debug everywhere"), Java is regarded as being largely hardware- and operating system-independent.
Java was initially promoted as a platform for client-side applets running inside web browsers. This positioning was very effective although browser-based applications have had considerable success in displacing compiled applications on the desktop. Java servlets, run on the server side of web browsers, and thus Java can run on both client and server of the web experience. Java has always been an important part of the web browser experience.
The platform consists of three major parts, the Java programming language, the Java Virtual Machine (JVM), and several Java Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). The design of the Java platform is controlled by the vendor and user community through the Java Community Process (JCP).
The Java programming language is an object-oriented programming language. Since its introduction in late 1995, it has become one of the world's most popular programming languages.
In order to allow programs written in the Java language to be run on (virtually) any device, Java programs are compiled to byte code, which can be executed by any JVM, regardless of the environment.
The Java APIs provide an extensive set of library routines. The Standard Edition (Java SE) of the API provides basic infrastructure and GUI functionality, while the Enterprise Edition (Java EE) is aimed at large software companies implementing enterprise-class application servers. The Micro Edition (Java ME) is used to build software for devices with limited resources, such as mobile devices.
In 1999, Sun acquired the German software company StarDivision and with it StarOffice, which it released as the office suite OpenOffice.org under both GNU LGPL and the SISSL (Sun Industry Standards Source License). OpenOffice.org is designed to be compatible with Microsoft Office, is available on many platforms and widely used in the open source community.
The current StarOffice product is a closed-source product based on OpenOffice.org. The principal differences between StarOffice and OpenOffice.org are that StarOffice is supported by Sun, it is available as either a single-user retail box kit or as per-user blocks of licensing for the enterprise, it includes a wider range of fonts and document templates and what Sun claims to be an improved dictionary and thesaurus. StarOffice also contains commercially licensed functions and add-ons - in OpenOffice.org these are either replaced by open-source or free variants, or not present at all. Whilst new releases of OpenOffice.org are relatively frequent, StarOffice follows a more conservative release schedule supposedly more suited to enterprise deployments.
The "Bubble" and its aftermath
During the dot-com bubble, Sun experienced dramatic growth in revenue, profits, share price, and expenses. Some part of this was due to genuine expansion of demand for web-serving cycles, but another part was synthetic, fueled by venture capital-funded startups building out large, expensive Sun-centric server presences in the expectation of high traffic levels that never materialized. The share price in particular increased to a level that even the company's executives were hard-pressed to defend. In response to this business growth, Sun expanded aggressively in all areas: head-count, infrastructure, and office space.
The bursting of the bubble in 2001 was the start of a period of poor business performance for Sun . Sales dropped as the growth of online business failed to meet predictions. As online businesses closed and assets auctioned off, a large amount of high-end Sun hardware was available very cheaply. Much like Apple, Sun relied a great deal on hardware sales.
Multiple quarters of substantial losses and declining revenues have led to repeated rounds of layoffs, executive departures, and expense-reduction efforts. In 2002 the share price returned to the 1998 pre-bubble level, a pattern of escalation and decline comparable to other companies in the sector, and has hovered in the single digits since then. In mid-2004, Sun ceased manufacturing operations at their Newark, California facility and consolidated all of the company's US-based manufacturing operations to their Hillsboro, Oregon facility, as part of continued cost-reduction efforts.
Many companies (like E*Trade and Google) chose to build Web applications based on large numbers of the less expensive PC-class Intel-architecture servers running Linux, rather than a smaller number of high-end Sun servers. They reported benefits including substantially lower expenses (both acquisition and maintenance) and greater flexibility based on the use of open-source software.
Higher level telecom control systems such as NMAS and OSS service predominantly use Sun equipment. This use is due mainly to the company basing its products around a mature and very stable version of the Unix operating system and the support service that Sun provides.
In 2004, in common with the trend of specialisation in the electronics industry, Sun cancelled two major processor projects which were emphasizing high instruction level parallelism and operating frequency. Instead, the company chose to concentrate on processor projects emphasizing multi-threading and multiprocessing, such as the UltraSPARC T1 processor (formerly known as "Niagara"). The company also announced a collaboration with Fujitsu to use the Japanese company's processor chips in some future Sun computers.
In February of 2005, Sun announced the Sun Grid, a grid computing deployment on which it offers utility computing services priced at $1 (US) per CPU/hour for processing and per GB/month for storage. This offering builds upon an existing 3,000-CPU server farm used for internal R&D for over 10 years, of which Sun claims to be able to achieve 97% utilization. In August 2005, the first commercial use of this grid was announced for financial risk simulations which was later launched as its first Software as a Service product.
Sun's software initiatives are increasingly making use of open-source software, most notably including Solaris via the OpenSolaris community. Sun's positioning includes a commitment to indemnify users of some software from intellectual property disputes concerning that software. The announced business model is the sale of support services on a variety of bases including per-employee and per-socket.
In January of 2005, Sun reported a net profit of $19 million for fiscal 2005 second quarter, for the first time in three years. This was followed by net loss of $9 million on GAAP basis for the third quarter 2005, as reported on April 14, 2005.
In November 30, 2005, Sun's president and Chief Operating Officer, Jonathan Schwartz, announced the source-code opening of all its software under CDDL. Schwartz said that the objective was to eliminate the barrier represented by the initial investment in software licenses.
In December 2005, Sun joined HANA, the High Definition Audio-Video Network Alliance to help establish standards in consumer electronics interoperability.
These people work or used to work at Sun.
- Jonathan I. Schwartz, President and CEO of Sun
- Carol Bartz, chairman of the board, Autodesk, Inc.
- Steve Bourne, author of the Bourne shell
- Tim Bray, Director of Web Technologies
- Bill Coleman, co-founder of BEA Systems
- Bryan Cantrill, of 2005 Technology Review "Top 35 Young Innovators"
- Alfred Chuang, co-founder of BEA Systems
- Whitfield Diffie, Chief Security Officer, co-inventor of public key cryptography
- Robert Drost, of 2004 Technology Review "Top 100 Young Innovators"
- Dan Farmer, computer security researcher
- John Gage, Chief Researcher
- James Gosling, co-inventor of Java language
- Steve Kleiman, inventor of the Virtual File System mechanism, co-inventor of NFS, co-architect of the Solaris multi-threaded kernel, currently CTO of Network Appliance, Inc.
- Larry McVoy, CEO of BitMover
- Chris Malachowsky, co-founder of NVIDIA Corporation
- Patrick Naughton, Java language project initiator
- Jakob Nielsen, web-design usability authority
- John Ousterhout, inventor of the Tcl scripting language
- Greg Papadopoulos, Executive Vice President and CTO
- Radia Perlman, sometimes known as the "Mother of the Internet"
- Kim Polese, prominent dot-com era executive
- Curtis Priem, co-founder of NVIDIA Corporation
- Bob Scheifler, leader of X Window System development from 1984 to 1996
- Eric Schmidt, former Chief Technology Officer of Sun, currently CEO of Google, Inc.
- Ed Scott, co-founder of BEA Systems
- Mike Sheridan, co-inventor of Java language
- Bert Sutherland, manager of Sun Labs, Xerox PARC, BBN Computer Science Division
- Ivan Sutherland, computer graphics pioneer
- Marc Tremblay, Chief Architect for Processors, Co-Architect for 1995's 64-bit UltraSPARC I processor
- Bud Tribble,Former VP of software development at NeXT, current VP of software technology at Apple
- Bill Vass, President and COO of Sun Microsystems Federal, Inc.
- Edward Zander, CEO of Motorola
- Global Education Leaning Community
- Interactive Systems Corporation
- Java Desktop System
- Java Enterprise System
- Java applet
- Liberty Alliance
- Sun Certified Professional
- Sun Grid Engine
- Official Sun Information
- General Unofficial Sun Information
- Sun Microsystems - Company Profile
- SunHELP - Sun News & Resources
- Online Sun Information ArcHive website
- Old Sun workstation information
- Sun 3 Unofficial Information
- Sun 2 Unofficial Information
- Sun2 Archive website
- Sun-2 Workstation Review, from Unix/World October 1984
- Sun2 Emulator running on NetBSD
- Sun Stories
- Liberty Alliance Project
- www.ProjectLiberty.org - Liberty Alliance Website (Alternative to Yahoo IDS, AOL and Microsoft's Passport technology)
- Sun Employees' Blog