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Sun: Elvis Andy has not left the building

Bechtolsheim still chief architect, says 'boss'

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When we woke up this morning, we were confronted with a flurry of stories about Andy Bechtolsheim leaving Sun to become chairman and chief development officer at a startup called Arista Networks. This seemed like bad news for Sun, but the company would like you to know it isn't entirely true.

Andy - and like Elvis, we probably should just call him by his first name - has left the Sun building. But he expects to be back about once a week to help Sun out on a part-time basis.

According to John Fowler, general manager of Sun's Systems Group, and technically Bechtolsheim's boss, the Sun co-founder's job at Sun as chief architect remains intact. "What Andy wants to do is turn up his time at Arista and turn down his time at Sun," Fowler explained, adding that the second job at Arista/Arastra was part of his original contract when Bechtolsheim came back to Sun in early 2004.

What Bechtolsheim doesn't want to do, according to Fowler, is a zillion dog and pony shows with customers. And he may not be as heavily involved in the minutia of every server design going forward, either. "Our server designs are pretty much in good shape now," says Fowler.

Bechtolsheim has had two jobs (and maybe more for all we know) since he came back to Sun when the server maker bought a startup called Kealia in February 2004. One of those jobs was as chief architect for Sun's Systems Group, and the other was a major investor and director at a company that was called Arastra but recently changed its name to Arista Networks.

Arista is working on 10 Gigabit Ethernet and cloud computing products, and it just hired Jayshree Ullal, the senior vice president of the Data Center, Switching and Services Group at Cisco Systems, to be president and chief executive officer.

What Bechtolsheim is focusing on in his duties at Sun, according to Fowler, is high performance computing server designs and the next generation of Sun's storage products, which will weave together solid state storage, disk storage, and Sun's Solaris Unix and Zettabyte File System. Bechtolsheim will be demonstrating future Sun products at the Supercomputing 2008 trade show next month in Austin, Texas, according to Fowler.

When Bechtolsheim returned our phone call this morning, he said "Hello, this is Andy Bechtolsheim, previously of Sun now at Arista." But he did confirm he will (sort of) stay at Sun. "I will continue to be an adviser at the company on a part-time basis, so it is true that I haven't formally left Sun or severed all my connections there," he explained.

"I was an original investor in Arista...as part of me making an investment in any company, Sun had to give its permission. So, yes, Sun permitted me to be an investor as well as a director of that company. I was a director of that company...but I was not full-time at Artista in any way. I spent a few hours a week there.

"Now it is flipping: I am basically full-time at Arista, and I will spend some time at Sun to help them on some products and other ongoing issues."

According to Bechtolsheim, he will spend about one day a week at Sun. "I am available to them for any questions they have and so, but nobody can have two full-time jobs. My full-time job is at Arista."

Since Bechtolsheim is emphasizing the part-time nature of his commitment to Sun, you have to wonder if at some point Sun should anoint another chief architect for its servers. Yes?

Bechtolsheim is one of the four original founders of Sun, along with Scott McNealy, Bill Joy, and Vinod Khosla. He was in charge of Sun's technology between 1984 and 1995. Bechtolsheim founded a Gigabit Ethernet switch company called Granite Systems after leaving Sun in 1995, and a little more than a year later sold that company to Cisco Systems for $200m.

Bechtolsheim worked at Cisco for a few years, but then founded Kealia in February 2001. The Kealia effort resulted in the foundation for the Sun's current "Niagara" Sparc T and "Galaxy" x64 server lines, the "Thumper" X4500 storage server, the Sun Blade 6000 blade servers, and the Magnum InfiniBand switch.

The ultimate irony would be, of course, that four years ago Sun ended up investing in an InfiniBand server and storage architecture created by Bechtolsheim and that perhaps a few years from now, after he creates something else useful based on 10 GigE, Sun ends up buying Arista Networks, too. ®

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