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Papadopoulos Could Be The Real Change Agent At Sun

When Scott McNealy stepped down after 22 years as Sun Microsystems CEO, the attention fell on his successor, Jonathan Schwartz. But to understand how Sun might change in the near future, keep an eye on another executive: Greg Papadopoulos, who took on the new title of executive VP of research and development.

Schwartz put Papadopoulos in charge of a top-to-bottom engineering review of Sun's technology projects over the next three months. Papadopoulos says no Sun engineer will escape his scrutiny, leaving open the chance there may be more changes in the offing than Schwartz's steady-on-the-wheel takeover speeches suggest.

Greg Papadopoulos

What do all those engineers do?

Sun lost $217 million during its third quarter ended March 26, though revenue increased 21% to $3.2 billion, largely on sales of storage and x86 servers. Schwartz contends Sun's big brands--Sparc, Solaris, Java, and Sun Fire servers running Advanced Micro Devices chips--"have yet to really bear fruit and deliver the value they ultimately can." Papadopoulos' job is to make sure Sun's technologists help unlock that value.

Sun spends about $2 billion annually on research and development, pouring a greater percentage of revenue into R&D (16.5% in the third quarter) than many of its competitors. But the company needs to shift funds from engineering projects that emphasize the performance of single computers running alone to technology that can boost the performance of a whole network of systems. That's increasingly how IT managers run their business apps. "As we go through and look at the R&D, we say, 'Is this old school or new school?'"says Papadopoulos, Sun's longtime CTO before his title change. "You can't do that informally."

Sun will focus more on designing systems meant to operate in clusters, and it will elevate the importance of software delivered as a Web service, rather than shipped in a box. The ability to do so will define "what it really means to be a computer company" in the next few years, he says.

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