Sun Microsystems, Inc. is a multinational vendor of computers, computer components, computer software, and information technology services, founded on 24 February 1982. The company is headquartered in Santa Clara, California (part of Silicon Valley), on the former west campus of the Agnews Developmental Center.
Products include computer servers and workstations based on its own SPARC processors as well as AMD's Opteron and Intel's Xeon processors; storage systems; and, a suite of software products including the Solaris Operating System, developer tools, Web infrastructure software, and identity management applications. Other technologies of note include the Java platform and NFS.
The initial design for what became Sun's first Unix workstation, the Sun 1, was conceived by Andy Bechtolsheim when he was a graduate student at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. He originally designed the SUN workstation for the Stanford University Network communications project as a personal CAD workstation. It was designed as a 3M computer: 1 MIPS, 1 Megabyte and 1 Megapixel. It was designed around the Motorola 68000 processor with an advanced Memory management unit (MMU) to support the Unix operating system with virtual memory support, He built the first ones from spare parts obtained from Stanford's Department of Computer Science and Silicon Valley supply houses.
On February 12, 1982 Vinod Khosla, Andy Bechtolsheim, and Scott McNealy, all Stanford graduate students, founded Sun Microsystems. Bill Joy of Berkeley (a primary developer of BSD), joined soon after and is counted as one of the original founders. The Sun name is derived from the initials of the Stanford University Network. Sun was profitable from its first quarter in July 1982.
Sun's initial public offering was in 1986 under the stock symbol SUNW, for Sun Workstations (later Sun Worldwide). The symbol was changed in 2007 to JAVA; Sun stated that the brand awareness associated with its Java platform better represented the company's current strategy.
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.
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 their assets were 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 December 2001 the share price dropped to the 1998 pre-bubble level of about one hundred dollars or so and then kept going, a rapid fall even by the standards of the high tech sector at that time. The stock dipped below 10 dollars a year later, one-tenth of its 1990 value, then quickly bounced back to 20, where it has hovered ever since. 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. In 2006 Sun closed the Newark campus completely and moved 2,300 staff to its other campuses in the area.
Many companies (like E-Trade and Google) chose to build Web applications based on large numbers of the less expensive PC-class x86-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. That trend is slowing and may be reversing, given (1) the throughput and efficiency of Sun's new horizontally-scaled systems (see below) and (2) the fact that both Sun's flagship Solaris operating system and its UltraSPARC T1 processor are now fully open-source.
Higher level telecoms 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, Sun canceled two major processor projects which emphasized high instruction level parallelism and operating frequency. Instead, the company chose to concentrate on processors optimized for multi-threading and multiprocessing, such as the UltraSPARC T1 processor (codenamed "Niagara"). The company also announced a collaboration with Fujitsu to use the Japanese company's processor chips in mid-range and high-end Sun servers. These servers were announced on 17 April 2007 as the M-Series, part of the SPARC Enterprise series.
In February 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 markets as being 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.
In January 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 January 2007, Sun reported a net GAAP profit of $126 million on revenue of $3.337 billion for its fiscal second quarter. Shortly following that news, it was announced that Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) would invest $700 million in the company.
A weekly summary of news about Sun and its products is posted to "System News for Sun Users", now in its 10th year.
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. It now has shifted its hardware product line to emphasize servers and storage.
Sun originally used the Motorola 68k 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.
In 1987, the company began using SPARC, a processor architecture of its own design, in its computer systems, starting with the Sun-4 line. SPARC was initially a 32-bit architecture until the introduction of the SPARC V9 architecture in 1995, which added 64-bit extensions.
Sun has developed several generations of SPARC-based computer systems, including the SPARCstation, Ultra and Sun Blade series of workstations, and the SPARCserver, Netra, Enterprise and Sun Fire line of servers.
In the early 1990s the company began to extend its product line to include large-scale symmetric multiprocessing servers, starting with the four-processor SPARCserver 600MP. This was followed by the 8-processor SPARCserver 1000 and 20-processor SPARCcenter 2000, which were based on work done in conjunction with Xerox PARC. In the late 1990s this transformation was accelerated by the acquisition of Cray Business Systems Division from Silicon Graphics. Cray's 32-bit CS6400 "Superserver", related to the SPARCcenter, was superseded by a 64-bit joint design by Cray and Sun which became the very successful Sun Enterprise 10000 large-scale server. More recently, Sun has also ventured into the blade server (high density rack-mounted systems) market.
In November 2005 Sun launched the UltraSPARC T1, notable for its ability to concurrently run 32 threads of execution on 8 processor cores. Its intent was to drive more efficient use of CPU resources, which is of particular importance in data centers, where there is an increasing need to reduce power and air conditioning demands, much of which comes from the heat generated by CPUs. The T1 was followed by the UltraSPARC T2, which extended the number of threads per core from 4 to 8, and T2 Plus, which added the ability to have multiple T2 processors in one system. Sun has open sourced the design specifications of both the T1 and T2 processors via the OpenSPARC project.
In April 2007, Sun released the SPARC Enterprise server products, jointly designed by Sun and Fujitsu and based on Fujitsu SPARC64 processors. The M-class SPARC Enterprise systems include high-end reliability and availability features.
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 follow-up "486i" upgrade was announced but only a few prototype units were ever manufactured.
Sun's brief first foray into x86 systems ended in the early 1990s, as it decided to concentrate on SPARC and retire the last Motorola systems and 386i products, a move dubbed by McNealy as "all the wood behind one arrowhead". Even so, 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, Inc., 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 (a term popularized and eventually trademarked by Oracle); the JavaStation was a diskless system designed to run Java applications.
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, based in part on previous Cobalt system expertise. This was also Sun's first system announced to support Linux as well as Solaris.
In 2003, Sun announced a strategic alliance with AMD to produce x86/x64 servers based on AMD's Opteron processor; this was followed shortly by Sun's acquisition of Kealia, a startup founded by original Sun founder Andy Bechtolsheim, which had been focusing on high-performance AMD-based servers.
The following year, Sun launched the Opteron-based Sun Fire V20z and V40z servers, and the Java Workstation W1100z and W2100z workstations.
On September 12 2005, Sun unveiled a new range of Opteron-based servers: the Sun Fire X2100, X4100 and X4200 servers. These were designed from scratch by the team led by Bechtolsheim to address heat and power consumption issues commonly faced in data centers. In July 2006, the Sun Fire X4500 and X4600 systems were introduced, extending what is now a line of x64 systems that support not only Solaris, but Linux and Microsoft Windows as well.
On January 22 2007, Sun announced a broad strategic alliance with Intel. Intel now endorses Solaris as a mainstream operating system and as its mission critical UNIX OS for its Xeon processor-based systems, and also contributes engineering resources to OpenSolaris. Sun began using the Intel Xeon processor in its x64 server line, starting with the Sun Blade X6250 server module introduced in June 2007.
On May 05 2008, AMD announced that its Operating System Research Center (OSRC) expanded its focus to include optimization to Sun's OpenSolaris and xVM virtualization products for AMD based processors.
Sun is known for community-based and open-source licensing of its major technologies, and for its support of its products with other open source technologies. Sun offers GNOME-based desktop software called Java Desktop System (originally code-named "Madhatter"), first distributed as a Linux implementation but now offered as part of the Solaris operating system. It supports its Java Enterprise System (a middleware stack) on Linux. It has released the source code for Solaris under the open-source Common Development and Distribution License, via the OpenSolaris community. Sun's positioning includes a commitment to indemnify users of some software from intellectual property disputes concerning that software. It offers support services on a variety of pricing bases, including per-employee and per-socket.
A report prepared for the EU by UNU-MERIT stated that Sun is the largest corporate contributor to open source movements in the world. According to this report, Sun's open source contributions exceed the combined total of the next five largest commercial contributors.
Sun is most well known for its Unix systems, which have a reputation for system stability and a consistent design philosophy.
In the late 1980s, AT&T tapped Sun to help them develop the next release of their branded UNIX, and in 1988 announced they would purchase up to a 20% stake in Sun. 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.
From 1992 Sun also sold INTERACTIVE UNIX, an operating system it acquired when it bought INTERACTIVE Systems Corporation from Eastman Kodak Company. This was a popular UNIX variant for the PC platform and a major competitor to market leader SCO UNIX. Sun's focus on INTERACTIVE UNIX diminished in favor of Solaris on both SPARC and x86 systems; it was dropped as a product in 2001.
In the past, Sun has offered a separate variant of Solaris called Trusted Solaris, which included augmented security features such as multilevel security and a least privilege access model. Solaris 10 included many of the same capabilities as Trusted Solaris when it was released in 2005; the Solaris 10 11/06 update included Solaris Trusted Extensions, which give it the remaining capabilities needed to make it the functional successor to Trusted Solaris.
Following several years of difficult competition and loss of server market share to competitors' Linux-based systems, Sun began to include Linux as part of its strategy in 2002. Sun supports both Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server on its x64 systems; companies such as Canonical Ltd., Wind River Systems and MontaVista also support their versions of Linux on Sun's SPARC-based systems.
In 2004, Sun surprised the industry when, after having cultivated a reputation as one of Microsoft's most vocal antagonists, it entered into a joint relationship with them, resolving various legal entanglements between the two companies and receiving US$1.95 billion in settlement payments from them. Sun now supports Microsoft Windows on its x64 systems, and has announced other collaborative agreements with Microsoft, including plans to support each others' virtualization environments.
The Java platform was developed at Sun in the early 1990s with the objective of allowing programs to function regardless of the device they were used on, sparking the slogan "Write once, run anywhere" (WORA). 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. Early examples of Java applications were the HotJava web browser and the HotJava Views suite. However, since then Java has been more successful on the server side of the Internet.
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).
Java 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. These APIs have evolved into the Standard Edition (Java SE), which provides basic infrastructure and GUI functionality; the Enterprise Edition (Java EE), aimed at large software companies implementing enterprise-class application servers; and the Micro Edition (Java ME), 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 supports Microsoft Office file formats (with a few flaws), is available on many platforms (primarily Linux, Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, and Solaris) and is 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, is available as either a single-user retail box kit or as per-user blocks of licensing for the enterprise, and includes a wider range of fonts and document templates and a commercial quality spellchecker. StarOffice also contains commercially licensed functions and add-ons; in OpenOffice.org these are either replaced by open-source or free variants, or are not present at all. Both packages have native support for the OpenDocument format.
In 2007, Sun announced the Sun xVM virtualization and datacenter automation product suite for commodity hardware. Sun also acquired VirtualBox in 2008. Earlier virtualization technologies from Sun like Dynamic System Domains and Dynamic Reconfiguration were specifically designed for high-end SPARC servers, and Logical Domains only supports the UltraSPARC T1/T2/T2 Plus server platforms. Sun also has the N1 provisioning software for datacenter automation.
On the client side, Sun offers virtual desktop solutions. Complete desktop environments and applications can be hosted in the datacenter, with users accessing these environments from a wide range of client devices, including Microsoft Windows PCs, Sun Ray virtual display clients, Apple Macintoshes, PDAs or any combination of supported devices. A variety of networks are supported, from LAN to WAN or the public Internet. A virtual desktop solution can be provided through Sun Ray Software, Sun Secure Global Desktop and Sun Virtual Desktop Infrastructure.
Sun acquired MySQL AB, the developer of the MySQL database in 2008. CEO Jonathan Schwartz mentioned in his blog that optimizing the performance of MySQL is one of the priorities of the acquisition. In February 2008, Sun began to publish results of the MySQL performance optimization work. Sun is also a contributor to the PostgreSQL project. On the Java platform, Sun contributes to, ships, and offers support for JavaDB.
Sun offers a range of other software products for software development and infrastructure services. Many of these products were developed in house; others have come from a series of acquisitions, including Tarantella, Waveset Technologies,, SeeBeyond, and Vaau. Sun also acquired many of the Netscape non-browser software products as part a deal involving Netscape's merger with AOL.. These software products were initially offered under the iPlanet brand; once the Sun-Netscape alliance ended, they were re-branded as Sun ONE (Sun Open Network Environment), and more recently as the Sun Java System.
Today, Sun's middleware stack is branded as the Java Enterprise System (or JES), and fulfills web and application serving, as well as communication, calendaring, directory, identity management and SOA/business integration roles. The software is available for download and use free of charge on systems running Solaris, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, HP-UX, and Windows, with support available optionally.
Sun also produces a suite of compilers and development tools under the Sun Studio brand, for building and developing Solaris and Linux applications.
Sun has long sold its own storage systems to complement its system offerings; it has also made several storage-related acquisitions. On June 2 2005, Sun announced it would purchase Storage Technology Corporation (StorageTek) for US$4.1 billion in cash, or $37.00 per share, a deal completed in August 2005.
In 2006, Sun introduced the Sun StorageTek 5800 System, the world's first application-aware programmable storage solution. In 2008, Sun contributed the source code of the StorageTek 5800 System under the BSD license.
With Sun Constellation System, Sun is increasing its focus in High-Performance Computing (HPC). Even before the introduction of the Sun Constellation System in 2007, Sun's products were already in use in many of the TOP500 systems and supercomputing centers:
The Sun HPC ClusterTools product is a set of MPI libraries and tools for running parallel jobs on Solaris HPC clusters. Beginning with version 7.0, Sun switched from its own implementation of MPI to Open MPI, and has started donating engineering resources to the Open MPI project.
In 2006, Sun built the TSUBAME supercomputer, which was until June 2008 the fastest supercomputer in Asia. Sun built Ranger at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) in 2007. Ranger has a peak performance of over 500 TFLOPS, and is currently the 4th most powerful supercomputer on the TOP500 list.
Sun also has an OpenSolaris distribution that is optimized for HPC workloads. The distribution integrates many of Sun's HPC products and other commonly used 3rd-party solutions.
Notable Sun employees include John Gilmore, Whitfield Diffie, Radia Perlman, Marc Tremblay, and Ned Freed. 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", coined by John Gage. James Gosling led the team which developed the Java programming language. Most recently, Jon Bosak led the creation of the XML specification at W3C.
Many Sun staff publish articles on the company's blog site. Staff are encouraged to use the site to blog on any aspect of their work or personal life. There are few restrictions placed on staff, other than commercially confidential material. Sun staff are inspired to blog by CEO Jonathan I. Schwartz, whose own blog is widely read, is translated into other languages, and is frequently quoted and analyzed in the press.