Sun Microsystems Inc.'s recent surprise decision to drop work on its UltraSparc V processor could be seen as either a desperate cost-cutting measure by a troubled company, or a vote of confidence for the next generation of multithreaded, multicore "throughput computing" processors that Sun has been readying since its 2002 acquisition of Afara WebSystems Inc.
The demise of UltraSparc V appears to have been hastened by Sun's recent decision to lay off 3,300 employees -- about 9 percent of its workforce -- including some engineers working on the processor. But according to David Yen, Sun's executive vice president of processor and network products, the product's termination is an indication that Sun is betting everything on its throughput computing designs. UltraSparc V, code-named Millennium, was intended to be a stop-gap offering as Sun readied its first throughput computing processors, the first of which -- a network-intensive chip code-named Niagara -- is expected in early 2006.
IDG News Service recently interviewed Yen, asking him to explain the decision to drop both the UltraSparc V and Sun's first dual-core processor, code named Gemini, which the company had been on the verge of shipping.
With the end of UltraSparc V, Sun seems ready to consider a world of new possibilities, including throughput chips built with Advance Micro Devices Inc.'s (AMD) processor cores, and even an end to the UltraSparc brand itself, according to Yen.
IDGNS: How did you arrive at the decision to terminate Gemini and UltraSparc V?
David Yen: Well, the quick comment is: People should have no doubt about our belief and our vision in the throughput computing area. We believe in it so much that we wanted to focus all our resources on trying to expedite its development. We did spend quite some time working on Millennium and Gemini. The two processors look a little bit on the traditional side. We believe the new CMT (chip multithreading) processors have such great promise that we really would like to maximize the amount of resources we can throw behind them.
There was really nothing wrong with those processors. We actually taped out both of them, and Gemini even reached the point where the chip was fully working. But in the Gemini space, we have UltraSparc IIIi and UltraSparc IIIi+ that are doing a very capable job. By not doing Gemini, it also helps a little bit in the product positioning.
In the Millennium space, with the current UltraSparc IV, followed by the UltraSparc IV+, and then with the upcoming Rock and Niagara systems, we actually believe that this is probably a better road map. That's why we made the decision.
IDGNS: So were the performance improvements with UltraSparc V and Gemini not what you'd anticipated?
Yen: These are all first generation, so to speak. Gemini has two UltraSparc II cores. We already have the chip working, so we even have benchmark results (showing that the) single-thread performance is very competitive, to some extent -- close to what the UltraSparc IIIi offers. In the multi-thread, throughput type of applications, in certain cases, because of the dual core, it actually performs better.
But considering the amount of investment in terms of productization for both processor-based systems, and considering the delta, we decided to have a more clear positioning. And that's why we didn't go that way.