13 April 2004 Sun Microsystems has discontinued development of its UltraSparc V and Gemini chips, in what it claims is a major strategic shift towards multicore processors.
But given recent plans to lay off 3,300 employees, the surprise decision seems likely to have been motivated by financial as much as strategic concerns.
“Sun continues to focus its processor R&D on more radical designs that will be featured in the Niagara and Rock processor families to offer customers 15 to 30 times the application throughput they have today,” a Sun spokesperson said.
Both UltraSparc V (code-named Millennium) and Gemini were dual-core chips for servers, pitched at the high- and low-end respectively.
Gemini, a hybrid of previous chips, was already something of an anomaly on Sun’s roster. But only last week, Sun CEO Scott McNealy had pointed to the UltraSparc family as a “bright spot” on the company’s otherwise gloomy balance sheets.
Sun had already dropped UltraSparc VI from its schedule in favour of a new multicore, multithreaded processor. But the version V chip was expected to provide a stop-gap, following the recent release of UltraSparc IV.
Sun’s multicore approach, which it dubs “throughput computing”, is based on technology from Afara WebSystems, which Sun acquired in 2002. It centres on two new families of chips: Rock and Niagara. But neither is expected to be released until 2006 at the earliest.
In the interim, Sun will release beefed-up verions of UltraSparc IV and focus on ensuring Rock is delivered on time — a problem with previous chip releases.
Such delays have contributed to Sun’s decline in market share. Rivals such as IBM, Advanced Micro Devices and Intel have made big gains at Sun’s expense in recent years.