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micro-everything

According to Sun's CTO, microprocessors are on their way out. Quote:

"Microprocessors are dead," Papadopoulos said, trying to provoke an audience of chip aficionados at the Microprocessor Forum here. As new chip manufacturing techniques converge with new realities about the software jobs that computers handle, central microprocessors will gradually assume almost all the functions currently handled by an army of supporting chips, he said.

Eventually, Papadopoulos predicted, almost an entire computer will exist on a single chip--not a microprocessor but a "microsystem." Each microsystem will have three connections: to memory, to other microsystems and to the network, Papadopoulos said.

He predicted that as more and more circuitry can be packed onto a chip, not just a single system but an entire network of systems will make its way onto a lone piece of silicon. He dubbed the concept "micronetworks."

This trend is certainly visible in low-end systems, where chips (particularly for notebooks) come built-in with video, sound, network, and other features built-in. In that sense, I don't see what's there to "predict". The idea of a system-on-a-chip is already here. Sure, he's probably talking about even more integration, which is reasonable since he's from Sun Mic... well, you get the idea.

I think that it's a little premature to assume that individual components for devices and boards will disappear outright, for a simple reason: when you have different components created by different manufacturers, competition can be more partitioned among different areas of a system, resulting in better quality overall. It's not a coincidence that PCs, which are essentially a bunch of chips from many, many different sources brought together, are cheaper and faster today than anything else in their category. Hey, even Apple switched over to PCI eventually.

Speaking of Sun, there's an interesting article in today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) on Sun's new strategy. The article's title ("Cloud Over Sun Microsystems: Plummeting Computer Prices") makes it sound as if it's going to be less harsh than it is. The writer all but declares Sun dead as it is customary these days--as an example, consider the quote: "The Silicon Valley legend that once boasted of putting the dot in dot-com is staring into the abyss". Staring into the abyss. Jeez. And then the writer adds snippets like Sun is sitting on $5.7 billion in cash and securities. Heh. I'd have no problems "staring into the abyss" under those conditions. :)

The truth is that the picture that emerges from the information, the quotes from customers and Sun execs, etc, is less clear. I think there's simply confusion on the part of "analysis" that see everything as either-this-or-that on Sun's new ideas, which are a relatively new breed (and quite a gamble, one might add). It's going to take one or two more years to see if Sun is really going to get through this or not.

One of the problems that the article focuses on is Sun's chaotic behavior during the past two years, as the new strategy was developed and put in place:

In December 2002, Jim Melvin, chief executive of Siva Corp., a Delray Beach, Fla., firm that runs back-office systems for restaurants, wanted to invest several million dollars to build a corporate data center using Sun equipment. But when Mr. Melvin approached Sun, he found the company's restructuring was causing chaos. "Sun said call back in two months, because the guy I was talking to there didn't know if he'd still have his job," he says. Frustrated, Mr. Melvin bought IBM and Dell gear instead.
and which I saw for myself here and there. Sun also made the mistake of being a dot-com baby itself, instead of just selling stuff to dot-coms (as IBM did):
Sun compounded its problems by responding slowly to the slumping market. Even as tech spending dried up in 2001, the company increased its work force to 44,000 employees from 37,000. Other firms axed costs early, or launched big deals to remake themselves. Cisco Systems Inc. cut nearly 20% of its work force beginning in March 2001. H-P launched a controversial purchase of Compaq Computer Corp. that same year, and has since slashed $3.5 billion in annual costs.

Sun put the brakes on the hiring in the fall of 2001 and trimmed around 10% of its work force that October -- the first of several big cuts. But by mid-2001, Sun's quarterly sales had dipped to $4 billion and it began reporting net losses. Its share of world-wide server revenue fell to 13.2% in 2001 from 17% in late 2000, according to Gartner.

The new strategy does makes sense. As McNealy is quoted as saying in the article, "we're long on strategy. If we execute well, we'll do just fine."

Exactly.

Categories: soft.dev, technology
Posted by diego on October 16, 2003 at 9:16 PM

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