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Sun revamps high-performance computing group

The top executive is out, as Sun continues its struggle with revenue declines and elusive profitability.

SAN FRANCISCO--Sun Microsystems has reorganized its high-performance computing group, removing the executive in charge and embracing Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron processor.

The reorganization will make Sun a "more aggressive participant" in a market where "we have been fairly small," said Sun Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Schwartz in an interview at Sun's JavaOne trade show here. Shahin Khan, named to lead the high-performance computing group in February 2003, is no longer with Sun, spokesman Andy Lark confirmed.

Sun got its start selling workstations, a staple in the diet of scientists, engineers and others in the high-performance computing market. But with the increasing power of "x86" chips such as Intel's Xeon and AMD's Opteron, Sun has lost out--especially when groups of such low-end machines are linked into the supercomputing clusters that are sweeping the Top500 list of the most powerful supercomputers. Sun had just 15 systems on the list, compared with 242 for IBM and 140 for Hewlett-Packard.

"I would not say they've been very successful in high-performance computing," said Illuminata analyst Jonathan Eunice. Sun's UltraSparc processors are "poky," and Sun's technology priorities drifted to general business customers, he added.

Sun's reorganization is among several major organizational changes the company is making to deal with its continuing revenue declines and lack of profitability. Shortly after Schwartz was promoted to the No. 2 post at Sun in April, he ousted two top server executives. And the company is laying off 3,000 employees.

Schwartz is counting on new technology to reinvigorate the business, including its Sparc processors with "chip multithreading" capabilities to run several jobs at the same time, its coming Solaris 10 version of Unix with faster performance, and its aggressive adoption of Opteron.

"With the introduction of Opteron, the (upcoming) Solaris 10, along with the evolution of chip multithreading, we're seeing the most competitive product road map at Sun in the last eight years," Schwartz said. "We're going to be a much bigger player (in) revenue generation."

Sun hired Khan in the 1990s from supercomputing specialist Cray, the company that also designed the high-end 64-processor E10000 "Starfire" system that moved Unix servers a major step toward mainframes.

Sun hasn't decided on Khan's successor, a representative said.