Sun Microsystems is licensing its multi-threaded 10 Gbit/s Ethernet networking technology to Marvell Technology Group - the first deal by its new microelectronics group.

Marvell, a semiconductor firm focused on the consumer, communications and storage sectors, will build and sell high-performance networking products that exploit the performance capabilities of Sun's multi-threaded processors.

Sun's multi-threaded design makes it possible for a processor to perform more tasks simultaneously. But 10GB Ethernet networks not configured for multi-threaded processors create a data bottleneck, said David Yen, executive vice president of the microelectronics unit.

"Today, there is more Internet-based throughput demand. That's the nature of the workload. There is a new breed of multicore processors available to do that, but one thing that is missing is the network interface," said Yen.

Sun, under Project Neptune, has been developing network interface cards (NICs) and application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) that optimise the capability of multi-threaded processors. Under the licensing agreement, Marvell will use that technology to develop its own NIC and ASIC products, said Marvell spokeswoman Diane Vanasse. Marvell will also build specific products for Sun using this technology.

Although the Sun-Marvell deal has been in development for some time, it is the first agreement announced since Sun's new microelectronics group was announced on March 27. The group will license Sun technology to other firms.

Faster throughput is needed to optimise the benefits of virtualisation, said Raju Penumatcha, vice president of Netra systems and networking at Sun. Netra is a line of Sun servers used in telecommunications. As datacentres combine workloads onto fewer and fewer servers, they will need faster connections to networks to move data processed in a virtualised environment.

Yen said Sun also plans to work with Marvell to develop upcoming generations of Ethernet I/O technology that runs at 40 Gbit/s and, eventually, 100 Gbit/s.

Marvell is facing de-listing from the Nasdaq stock exchange because it has failed to file an annual report for 2006 and reports for the last two quarters of 2006. It has been conducting an internal review of stock options accounting irregularities. Marvell filed a notice March 30 with the US Securities and Exchange Commission notifying shareholders of the de-listing possibility.