So Sun Microsystems is bringing back a dedicated microelectronics division.
Why? Or more specifically, why now?
Here are my thoughts as to why.
First, the obvious. Sun in the past had an solid OEM SPARC business, primarily in the low-end embedded and SPARC clone workstation market, as well as low-end servers, and specialized systems such as telco market products and hardened systems for the military. These systems included workstations and servers where customers built their own systems based on UltraSPARC processors OEMed from Sun, as well as systems where the entire motherboard was OEMed from Sun.
Back when the techical desktop was ruled by UNIX/RISC, and Sun UltraSPARC II processors were solid desktop performers, this made a lot of sense. It also made sense with the initial UltraSPARC IIIi systems. However, the MHz race between Intel and AMD, along with the rise of Linux caused this specialized OEM business to shift towards x86, and Sun's OEM business shrank accordingly.
However, it never entirely went away, as Tadpole still sells UltraSPARC IIi and UltraSPARC IIIi based laptop computers, and the mil spec SPARC systems business still exists.
So why bring a dedicated microelectronics OEM business back? One reason is Sun has a very good OEM server chip with the UltraSPARC T1 "Niagara" processor. This processor has a system on a chip architecture which makes it easy for companies to build compute solutions around. And there are companies focused on markets where US-T1 fits well, such as telco, security, networking, etc. The other is Sun has Niagara 2 in the works, which could allow Sun to reposition the original Niagara as more of an embedded play, but also offer Niagara 2 to OEM customers where it may fit. Also, Sun now has a 10Gb Ethernet ASIC they wish to offer to the OEM market. And as you know if you follow Sun, volume matters. Sun knows it cannot drive its network ASIC into the larger market by itself.
But I think that is only part of the story. It explains the "Why". It does not explain the "When", or more precisely, the "Why Now".
As you may know, Sun will soon announce the servers which are part of the Sun-Fujitsu "Advanced Product Line" (APL) project. These systems will use Fujitsu's SPARC64-VI processors. Sun has had to face a lot of FUD around the future of its SPARC processors due to its decision to partner on these midrange and high-end systems.
What better preemptive action to take against he obvious FUD and annoying reporter questions than to create an Executive Vice President of SPARC? Who is the obvious leader of the SPARC processor business? People in the industry know who David Yen is. Does anyone know who run's Fujitsu's SPARC64 business?
Sun has grabbed the leadership of the SPARC industry in a very visible way just before the announcement of a product line which uses third-part SPARC processors.
All I can say is, this is rhetorically brilliant.
It has Jonathan Schwartz's fingerprints all over it.