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Sun execs boomerang back to old digs

CEO Scott McNealy and several other top executives have quietly returned to their former offices in Menlo Park, Calif., so they could be closer to customers.

MENLO PARK, Calif.--After a one-year hiatus in Santa Clara, Calif., Sun Microsystems Chief Executive Scott McNealy and several other top executives have quietly returned to their former offices up the road here so they could be closer to customers.

Sun didn't announce the return trip, but executives revealed the move at a March gathering to unveil new facilities designed to make Sun a more appealing business partner to software companies. Essentially, the company discovered the move to Santa Clara had been a bad idea.

"The ability to contact the customers had gone down," said Clark Masters, executive vice president of enterprise systems at Sun, in an interview. Customers usually come through Sun's Menlo Park buildings, where the server maker has a well-equipped briefing center filled with the latest Sun gear.

Sun opened the Santa Clara campus in June 2000, after the Internet bubble had burst but before the resulting spending slowdown shrank the company's quarterly revenue by about 40 percent. The site, a former insane asylum, features a prominent clock tower that housed McNealy and other top executives.

McNealy and the others moved in at the end of 2001 but moved back to Menlo Park a year later, a Sun representative said.

Sun has been trying to get closer to customers as part of its plan to recover after the Internet bubble burst, the recession struck and corporations stopped buying so much. For example, Sun has begun setting up business units tied to specific "vertical" industry segments such as banking, manufacturing, health care and energy. And Sun has been shunning some widely watched server speed tests, preferring instead to coax customers to try out its applications on actual Sun hardware.

Sun opened a new part of that effort in March, a trio of new data centers packed with computers called the Enterprise Test Facilities. The centers are used to help Sun business partners push their software to the limits.

The centers are "an ultra high-end proving ground for customers and partners," Masters said. The three centers, in Menlo Park, Hillsboro, Ore., and Burlington, Mass., currently have a total of 20,000 square feet of room with computers using 3,615 processors altogether.

Oracle and PeopleSoft are among the larger companies using the facilities for testing new versions of their software on the latest versions of Sun hardware. And QuadraMed used the facilities to see how many people could simultaneously use its software for managing hospital information such as patient records.

QuadraMed had tested its software running with as many as 2,000 users, Chief Executive Sheau Wu said in an interview. At the test facility, company engineers showed as many as 7,000 could use it on a single 24-processor Sun Fire 6800 server, Wu said, still within the required three-second response time for fulfilling a request.

Having the proof is handy for customers who are buying a system that they'll need to expand later to larger scale, Wu said. "I don't want to be the first pioneer. You have to prove to me you can scale," Wu said customers tell him.