McNealy defends Sun's record

Scott McNealy, chairman and chief executive officer of Sun Microsystems has a reputation for speaking his mind. In a major...

Scott McNealy, chairman and chief executive officer of Sun Microsystems has a reputation for speaking his mind. In a major interview he discusses everything from reliability problems with Sun servers to his call for ID cards.

Q: Sun hit the headlines last year because of problems with the UltraSPARC II that was causing some Ultra Enterprise servers to crash. Is that something you're still grappling with, or is it history?

A: We're no longer buying IBM static random-access memory [SRAM]. They were the biggest source of the problem for us. They knew about it before, and they didn't tell us.

IBM sure made a big point of telling all of our customers about it a year and a half ago. But we don't have that issue anymore. We designed IBM out of that and put [error checking and correcting logic] across the entire cache architecture.

Q: Are you fully confident that your new Sun Fire 15K server is free of this whole memory cache problem?

A: We designed all of that stuff out. In all of our old products we've upgraded to mirrored SRAM. It handles it on the fly and the problem went away. We're exceeding all of our design specs on all of our servers right now.

Q: Now that IBM is out, who supplies your SRAM?

A: Sony and a couple of others. You just find suppliers who treat you with integrity and provide a quality product and good price/performance. It was our fault. We didn't screen the SRAM for soft error rates.

Q: Hewlett-Packard and IBM have recently lowered their Unix server prices to compete more aggressively against Sun. Do you see a Unix server price war coming?

A: It is a two-company short list situation right now. I cannot tell you the last time I ran into HP as a legitimate competitor. It's been a year and a half since I've run into Compaq as a server company. In the enterprise world, midrange to high end, it's only IBM and Sun.

Q: So you'd be willing to knock prices down further if you need to?

A: We'll do whatever we need to do.

Q: Speaking of HP and Compaq, do you think the merger will happen?

A: I hope so. Both of them have given up on their RISC/Unix strategies; both of them have decided they're going to be grocery stores for Wintel.

Q: Sun has done quite a bit in the way of Linux support, but you really haven't gone the IBM route of marketing Linux-based systems. Why is that?

A: We're the No. 1 Linux appliance server supplier in the world with the Cobalt line [from the acquisition of Cobalt Networks in 2000]. We have Linux extensions to Solaris. We just don't think a Linux partition on a mainframe makes a lot of sense. It's like having a trailer park in the back of your estate.

Q: You upset privacy advocates with your support for a national ID card.

A: If there were no audit trails and no fingerprints, there would be a lot more crime in this world. Audit trails deter lots of criminal activity. So all I'm suggesting, given that we all have ID cards anyhow, is to use biometric and other forms of authentication that are way more powerful and way more accurate than the garbage we use today.

Q: Is Sun doing any research and development to make it all happen?

A: It's already done. It's called a Java card.

There's a second question of whether you want to have a national database. Identifying yourself is different from creating a database on you. And I have no problem with it being illegal for the government to create a database on anybody.

You could also get the same authority [that agrees to phone tapping warrants] to agree to build a database on [an individual]. And because we have an audit trail of you at your bank, at your airline, and your Internet service provider and all the rest of it, if we think you are a potential terrorist and we've gone to the courts and shown enough evidence, the government should be able to quickly build a national database on you for just that instance, for that particular issue.

Q: Do you ever think about retiring?

A: Every day. No, not really. I can't leave my kids to Microsoft. The government won't fight the battle. The government won't enforce the laws.

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