Sun has tapped David Yen, currently head of its storage division, to run its newly formed microelectronics business.
Yen will oversee the Microelectronics group, developing microelectronics for networking, cryptography and high-performance computing. The group will supply Sun's systems businesses and other customers globally, Sun said.
Jon Benson, a Sun senior vice president, will succeed Yen at the storage business.
Sun has been developing microelectronics for about 20 years, including its Sparc processors. Innovations expected from the new Microelectronics group will range from high-speed networking silicon designs to the next generation of open-sourced chip multi-threading processors.
Yen said Sun hopes to repeat the success it saw with its Solaris operating system, which runs on Sun hardware but also on other brands. Sparc, and the forthcoming multi-core Rock processor, will come under the Microelectronics group and could have wide appeal beyond use in Sun hardware.
"We believe our core competence is in the silicon development process," Yen said. "And we believe the potential is not limited to developing processors only on our own Systems products."
Sun has held this dream of more widespread Sparc adoption for nearly 20 years, promoting its processor architecture as an open standard through an organisation called Sparc International.
While Sparc has been adopted by Fujitsu and a handful of smaller vendors, Sun's vision has yet to pan out.
Sparc processors are used outside of Sun in some proprietary military applications and Sun reports some telecommunications equipment companies are thinking of using them in future networking products, said Yen.
Approximately 1,000 Sun employees will move into the Microelectronics group, primarily from the Systems group, Yen said.
Solaris running on hardware from Dell, HP and IBM indicates that "Sun's innovations have value and appeal beyond our own servers and storage products," Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz said in a written statement. So, Sun wants to "fuel that same success" with its own microelectronics products.
Sun's strategy is similar to the one pursued by IBM to license its Power processor architecture to other hardware makers, said Charles King, an industry analyst with Pund-IT research. Power was at one time used by Apple and is still used in some gaming consoles. Processor companies such as Freescale and P.A. Semi license the Power architecture.
"The model for success is there for Sun to follow," said King.
Yen, a 27-year industry veteran, has served Sun as vice president and general manager for its enterprise server business, executive vice president of processor and network products and executive vice president of scalable systems.
Benson, a 20-year veteran of the storage industry, most recently served as vice president of engineering for Sun's virtual storage and tape solutions business. He previously worked at StorageTek and became a Sun employee when Sun acquired StorageTek in 2006.