Sun Microsystems opened up its labs Thursday, spotlighting projects in areas ranging from wire-free chip-to-chip communications to Web 2.0 security.
The Sun Labs Open House at Sun facilities in Menlo Park, Calif., featured presentations and demonstrations on technologies still in development. One room even featured a slot car track embedded with real-time Java sensor technology.
Fostering communications between different Sun engineers is one intent of the open house, although customers, press, and students could be found roaming the different Sun buildings to check out exhibits and presentations.
"One of our constant efforts is technology transfer, which is getting other people at Sun to understand what we're doing," so plans can be formulated based on what each group is up to, said Robert Sproull, vice president and Sun fellow at Sun Microsystems Laboratories.
The open house extends to Friday but only for Sun employees. The agenda for Friday features a presentation on Project Flair, a project focused on Web development.
One project drawing a lot of attention Thursday, Proximity Communication, seeks to overcome limitations of Moore's Law. This famed principle stipulates that the number of transistors per chip doubles every 24 months at the same level of investment. In development for several years now, Proximity Communication involves placing silicon parts close to each other and transmitting signals between them sans wires.
This can increase bandwidth, make chips replaceable, and enable smaller chips, according to Sun. But there still are challenges, such as heat dissipation, said Robert Drost, director and distinguished engineer in Sun Labs. "[The project] has a very high risk and high reward," he said.
Proximity Communication represents major progress if Sun can pull it off, according to analyst Nathan Brookwood, founder of Insight64.
"Today, trying to build a system out of multiple chips really imposes tremendous performance constraints," Brookwood said. "If they can achieve this, if they can take several chips and make them behave like one large chip from an electrical and signal timing perspective, then that's a huge step forward."
Doing so would save power and enable the building of much larger caches, for example, Brookwood said.
Sun officials differed on when Proximity Communication technology might actually arrive in products. Drost would not comment on when this might happen except to say there would be some "packaging-type announcements" in the next year. But Sproull said it would be years, not months, before Proximity Communication would be in products.
"We haven’t even gotten the first prototype working," he said.
Sun's SPARC CPU platform is a likely destination for Proximity Communication. "You would get the most value out of this in something like a SPARC processor," Drost said.
The Web 2.0 security project, meanwhile, would provide server-to-user and user-to-server authentication, unlike SSL, which is limited to authenticating a user to a server. "If you really want to spread stronger trust models, especially in the e-commerce world, it would be very nice to have mutual authentication," Sproull said.