Sun Killing 'Rock' UltraSPARC Program: Report

Sun Microsystems, which is being bought by Oracle for $7.4 billion, reportedly is dropping its multibillion-dollar Rock program, which was aimed at high-end systems. Sun had been touting the multicore processor for about five years as a key part of its revitalization plan and as a competitor to IBM and Intel chips. But Rock-which initially had been scheduled for release in 2008-had been delayed until later this year, and Sun already had an agreement with Fujitsu to build high-end systems based on that company's SPARC64 chip platform.

Sun Microsystems, in the process of being bought by Oracle, reportedly is killing its long-anticipated "Rock" chip program.

Sun officials for years had touted the multibillion-dollar project as a key part of its overall revitalization plan, saying that it would compete with higher-end processors from such rivals as Intel and IBM.

However, the New York Times, quoting two unnamed sources, reported June 16 that Sun officials have ended the development of the multicore UltraSPARC processor, which initially had been scheduled for release last year, but had been delayed until this year.

Sun spokespeople have declined to comment on the report.

Rock, which Sun officials have been talking about since at least 2005, had been planned as a key piece of a larger strategy to revive Sun's flagging fortunes. Sun had already moved aggressively into the x86 space by adopting Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron processors-and later started using Intel chips as well-and had established its multicore "Niagara" line of UltraSPARC chips for low-end systems, a business that has been growing for Sun over the past few years.

In the meantime, while awaiting Rock, Sun struck a deal with partner Fujitsu to jointly develop higher-end servers based on Fujitsu's SPARC64 processor architecture.

In various papers released by Sun engineers, Rock was described as a 16-core chip that would have clock speeds of up to 2.3GHz and would be based on the company's CMT (chip multithreading technology).

The idea was to use Rock for computing environments where parallel processing was needed, offering a total of 32 main instructional threads and well as two other "helper" threads that would pregrab instructions, retire older instructions and clear the memory, which would improve performance.

Along with the delays, the Rock program was dealt another blow in March 2008 when David Yen, who was overseeing both the Niagara and Rock programs as executive vice president of Sun's Microelectronics Division, left to join networking company Juniper.

Rock was an expensive project, which should make the move to drop it palatable to Oracle, which is looking to buy Sun for about $7.4 billion. Sun stockholders are scheduled to vote on the acquisition July 16. The deal is expected to close this summer.