Sun's Big Splash

Sun's Big Splash - WINNER INTEGRATED CIRCUITS Sun's Big...

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56 IEEE Spectrum | January 2005 | NA ROBERT HOUSER T he Sunnyvale, Calif., campus of Sun Microsystems Inc. is a quiet and peaceful place with six low-rise build- ings connected by tree-lined walkways. But the tranquility masks a frightening real- ity—Sun is in serious economic trouble. The company was badly splattered by the burst of the dot-com bubble of 2000. Revenues for this once towering colossus of the server industry went south, and its stock plunged from more than US $60 in 2000 to less than $3 in 2002. Recently, the stock has been slowly but steadily climbing, and at press time it was selling at more than $5—a sign that the worst may be over for the company. But Sun, headquartered in Santa Clara, Calif., is still far from its glory days of the last decade. It could use a small miracle to get back solidly on its feet, and at last the company may have one: a new microprocessor chip intended for the volume servers that are the heart of data centers running the information and Web pro- cessing for businesses, universities, hospitals, factories, and the like. Sun’s engineers have had working chips since last spring and are now heavily into testing and debugging them and making design changes for the next fabrication run in early 2005. The server business generates $50 billion a year, according to Jessica Yang, a research analyst at IDC, Framingham, Mass., and Sun’s share recently is about 12 percent—down from 17 percent just four years ago. Sun’s new chip, called Niagara for the torrent of data and instructions that flow between the chip and its memory, was designed from the ground up to do away with the impact of latency—the idle time a micropro- cessor spends waiting for data or instructions to arrive from memory. This latency is one of the biggest imped- iments to the microprocessor’s ability to do real work. Niagara was not conceived at Sun. It started life in classic Silicon Valley fashion, as the brainchild of a Sunnyvale start-up called Afara Websystems Inc. THE NIAGARA MICROPROCESSOR CHIP IS SUN’S BEST HOPE FOR A COMEBACK BY LINDA GEPPERT Sun’s Big Splash INTEGRATED CIRCUITS WINNER
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January 2005 | IEEE Spectrum | INT 57 CHIP TO COME: Few thought that Kunle Olukotun’s idea of putting multiple threads into a microprocessor would lead to better server performance. Sun Microsystems believed and is ready- ing the Niagara chip [shown] for a new line of servers.
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“‘Afara’ means ‘bridge’ in the west African language Yoruba,” explains Stanford University professor Kunle Olukotun, one of the company’s founders [see photo, “Chip to Come”]. Completing the founding trio are Les Kohn, a microprocessor guru who has designed microprocessors for both Sun and Intel Corp., and industry insider Fermi Wang. The com- pany did not plan to sell microprocessors but instead to sell complete servers built around its approach to microprocessor design. When funding all but vanished after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and
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This note was uploaded on 05/03/2010 for the course CS 1 taught by Professor Rohr during the Spring '08 term at UCLA.

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Sun's Big Splash - WINNER INTEGRATED CIRCUITS Sun's Big...

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