Sun Founders Hail SPARC Chip's 25 Years as Potent Computer Platform

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2012-11-05 Print this article Print
Sign of the Times

Sign of the Times

Sun Microsystems, having no previous experience in designing and developing a microprocessor, launched its first SPARC chip in 1987. Twenty-five years later, it is still the No. 1 chip used in Unix systems worldwide and remains a multibillion dollar business for Oracle.


In 1987, the world was introduced to the Sun-4, the first SPARC-based computer. The decision of a small, brash startup called Sun Microsystems to develop its own microprocessor to compete with much larger suppliers like Intel and Motorola was the beginning of a series of major advances in enterprise IT. On Nov. 1, the Computer History Museum assembled a panel of SPARC contributors to discuss the past, present and future of the technology—including a look at the early technical and business challenges, the critical role of software, and the risks and rewards of developing increasingly powerful chips. The panel consisted of Bill Joy, a partner at the Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers venture capital firm and cofounder of Sun Microsystems; Andy Bechtolsheim, chairman and chief development officer of Arista Networks and cofounder at Sun; David Patterson, professor of computer science and director of the Parallel Computing Lab at UC Berkeley; Anant Agrawal, a venture consultant and former Sun executive; Bernie Lacroute, partner emeritus at Kleiner Perkins and a former Sun executive; and Rick Hetherington, vice president of hardware development systems at Oracle. The moderator was David House, chairman of Brocade and a CHM board member. All four co-founders of Sun were represented either live or virtually; Vinod Khosla, a venture capitalist, was at the event in person, and former CEO and Chairman Scott McNealy sent a video greeting. Here is an infographic outlining in detail the history of SPARC. This slide show offers highlights of the event.


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