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Bechtolsheim returns to Sun as 'employee No. 1'

One of the original founders of Sun Microsystems is returning to the company. Andreas "Andy" Bechtolsheim, who, along with current CEO Scott McNealy and others, established Sun more than 20 years ago, will become the company's newest chief architect when Sun acquires advanced server technology company Kealia in a stock-for-stock merger deal, the two companies disclosed last week. Bechtolsheim returns just a few months after the departure of fellow co-founder and former CTO Bill Joy caused consternation among industry analysts and some Sun users.

Sun has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Kealia, which will become the advanced systems technology group within Sun's volume systems products organization, the companies said. Bechtolsheim will serve as senior VP and chief architect in that organization, which is headed by EVP Neil Knox, and will also join Sun's executive management group led by McNealy. The acquisition is expected to close during the third or fourth quarter of Sun's fiscal year 2004.

Speaking to reporters at a press conference in San Francisco last Tuesday, an obviously delighted McNealy described Bechtolsheim as the "greatest workstation and computer-board designer on the planet."

"We are excited about having Andy back as employee No. 1," McNealy added. "This guy is prolific beyond anyone you've ever seen. I'll follow this guy anywhere."

Bechtolsheim was literally employee No. 1 when, back in 1982, he, McNealy, fellow Stanford University grad student Vinod Khosla and Berkeley professor Bill Joy founded the company. "Sun" was an acronym for "Stanford University Network," the campus WAN. Bechtolsheim is credited with designing Sun's first workstation. He left the company in 1995 to launch gigabit Ethernet start-up Granite Systems. Computer networking giant Cisco Systems purchased Granite a year later, and Bechtolsheim headed up that company's networking equipment chips development efforts. Bechtolsheim left Cisco late last year. He joined Kealia as president and CEO on January 1.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Kealia was founded in 2001 and makes servers based on AMD's x86-based Opteron processors. Sun, which once sold only its own UltraSparc-based machines, has been pursuing an x86 strategy that includes Opteron-based systems. "We have been working on a bunch of next-generation Opteron servers that seem like a really good fit for Sun," Bechtolsheim told reporters.

According to McNealy, the idea to buy Kealia came up during a recent reunion dinner with his fellow Sun co-founders. "With this guy . . . designing Opteron servers, there ain't going to be nobody who has the class and breadth of computers we have," McNealy said.

Bechtolsheim's return to Sun comes after the much-discussed departure of co-founder Joy last September. Co-founder Khosla left Sun in 1986 after its IPO to join venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Although Sun announced no specific product offerings that will be based on Kealia technology, the firm's Knox unveiled its first Opteron model, the dual-processor V20z, during Tuesday's presentation. Sun plans to announce a four-processor system in the next quarter. "It's a commitment to have an entire Opteron-based product line," Knox said.

Sun's embrace of Opteron doesn't mean that it will be abandoning its UltraSparc line. McNealy showed reporters two prototype UltraSparc processors built with new manufacturing technology from Texas Instruments (TI): the UltraSparc IIIi and IV (TI fabricates Sun's processors. The new processors rely on 130-nanometer circuitry and will approximately double the performance of their predecessors, McNealy noted.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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