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Will Sun Shine Again?

Sun announced its earnings last week; it made $55M last quarter. That's a reasonable turnaround from the previous year when, over the same period, it lost almost $90M. On the upside, that's four straight quarters of profits for Sun " on the down site, it's not a lot of profit and it comes largely on the back of efficiency efforts rather than growth in sales.

I recently sat down for an hour-long interview with Sun Executive VP, John Fowler. Fowler is nothing if not an out-of-the box thinker. He's held a bunch of jobs there, including Software CTO when Sun boldly took its proprietary operating system, Solaris, into open source. A few years later he headed up the systems division as that group committed a minor heresy by partnering with AMD to produce the x64 based servers, dubbed the Galaxy class. A more recent and more major heresy finds Sun in cahoots with Intel as it adds Xeon machines to its Galaxy line.

Of course, it's not just the Galaxy line that's getting attention. In August, the company announced that was releasing its Niagara 2 chip " which amounts to a pretty darn impressive eight-way system on a chip. Where the original Niagara was impressive with eight cores on single chip, the newer version will probably pack the punch for applications that Sun claimed for the original chip. That's largely due to the inclusion of eight floating-point units (the original had only one). That, along with eight on-chip crypto units a couple 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports and onboard memory controller units make this the sort of technology that gets a propeller head's prop spinning. More importantly, it'll all amount to real performance benefits for Sun customers.

When Sun struck its deal with Intel to build systems based its chips, Chairman Scott McNealy said he was looking to IBM for another such deal. Talk about heretical. Now, Solaris runs on the BladeCenter, and Domino and Tivoli software now officially run on Solaris 10. Supposedly, Solaris has even been ported to IBM mainframes. How's that propeller spinning now? To top it off, Dell recently announced that Solaris would show up on its price lists.

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