Microsoft gets former Sun chip guru, but why?

Redmond (WA) – A Microsoft spokeswoman has confirmed that former Sun Microsystems chip guru, Marc Tremblay, is leaving sun for the Redmond software giant, as was reported in the New York Times on Tuesday. His title will be Distinguished Engineer in the Strategic Software/Silicon Architectures division, reporting directly to Craig Mundie — Microsoft’s Chief Research and Strategy Officer. The question on everybody’s mind is: Why? Why does a dominant software company want an expert chip designer?

Tremblay, who’s from Quebec, was with Sun Microsystems for 18 years, ultimately achieving Chief Technology Officer. He holds 100 patents, which is the most of anyone at Sun. He led development on several key components of the Sparc architecture, Sun’s flagship server chip, and is viewed as an integral part of Sun’s hardware team.

When it was reported on Tuesday that Tremblay was leaving Sun, and it was discovered where he would be going at Microsoft, this began to raise many eyebrows. As The Wall Street Journal reports, “This is not a group that many people knew existed”. And the fact that Microsoft is recruiting people into it proves interesting.

So what would Microsoft want with a chip guy? The WSJ is speculating it may be for their Xbox division, possibly working on a follow-up model, like an Xbox 2. There is also the idea of Zune extensions, or some new piece of unannounced hardware. But in truth, everybody is guessing.

It’s an interesting move and one which provides journalists with lots of fodder for their cannons, but in this case the fodder may prove out to be sand or smoke until some more real, hard facts are known.


I believe Microsoft is working on the hardware infrastructure necessary to make Windows Azure work smoothly. The Windows Azure operating system, Microsoft’s operating system “for the next 50 years”, is a scalable on-demand compute-based operating system operating in the cloud. In fact, the word “azure” means “cloudless sky”, indicating that Microsoft has taken the nebulous concept of “cloud computing” and made it simpler.

In order for Windows Azure to operate as promised, Microsoft will need tremendous hardware assets on their side (the cloud side), so that when people access the various applications operating inside the cloud, the ability to scale applications up/down as needed will be witnessed so as to not limit usefulness. This is absolutely essential, not only ensuring a maximum use of resources, but also to making sure the system constantly runs smoothly, responding to loads, maintaining global data integrity with remote systems, etc.

This is unlikely to be something Microsoft will be able to do with off-the-shelf components. It is going to require someone with — at the very least — an intimate insider knowledge to work with other hardware companies to ensure the solutions required by the software are in place, if not true, original, custom-developed interconnect fabrics and/or load processors. This may well be where Tremblay’s expertise comes into play.

Of course, this is just my opinion. I could be wrong.