My Visit to Sun

Over the holidays I got the chance to visit Sun Microsystems in California. It was quite an experience. Sun has two campuses in California (rather, two in the San Francisco Bay Area): one in Santa Clara (a.k.a. Silicon Valley), and one in Menlo Park. I was given a tour of the Menlo Park campus by the Global Manager of the Campus Ambassador Program, Gary Serda. I was also given a tour of the Niagara labs at Sun's Santa Clara campus by Niagara architect and Sun Distinguished Engineer Denis Sheahan.

I made both my visits to Sun on Thursday December 20th, 2007.

Main entrance to Sun's Menlo Park Campus (click to enlarge)

To give you a better sense for the scale of the entrance to the Menlo Park Campus, here are a couple more photos of it from different angles and distances:

Main entrance to Sun's Menlo Park Campus (left).

Main entrance to Sun's Menlo Park Campus (right).

This is the Clocktower on Sun's Santa Clara Campus:

Sun's Santa Clara Campus Clocktower.

Menlo Park Visit (CampusCast Episode #1, Lunch, Tour of Campus)

During my visit to Sun's Menlo Park Campus, I got to meet a lot of people who run the Campus Ambassador Program; people I had maybe spoken to online before, but had never met in person. I got to meet my program manager, Wanda Brown Nicholas, who is the Program Manager for the Campus Ambassador Program in the U.S. and Canada. I also met Haley Simon, Campus Ambassador Program Coordinator for the Western United States and Canada, as well as Jordan Slott, who is the Global Technical Lead for the Campus Ambassador Program. Finally, I met Gary Serda, the Global Manager of the Campus Ambassador Program.

Campus Cast #1 Recording Session

The Thursday started off at 9:30 a.m. on Sun's Menlo Park Campus, where Jordan Slott and Haley Simon interviewed Teera Kanokkanjanarat over the phone. This was the recording of the first episode of CampusCast, the Sun Campus Ambassador audio podcast. I was fortunate enough to be present for this recording session.

The podcast was recorded in Building 18 of the Menlo Park Campus.

Building 18, Menlo Park Campus.

When I went inside, I was greeted by a desk clerk who informed me that I needed to fill out a form for a temporary badge for the day (Sun's campuses are restricted to Sun employees only, and all employees must have a badge).

Much to my surprise, I was the first person to arrive at the recording room, which made me wonder if I was in the right place :). Fortunately, Wanda arrived soon after, followed by Jordan.

The entrance to Building 18, Menlo Park Campus.

Since it was early in the morning, Wanda went on a quest to find some coffee :). Jordan and I went with.

After being unable to find any coffee around the recording area and surrounding offices, we went to Java Java Café [sic] (i.e. that's not a typo; I'm not positive, but I think there were two Java's in the name). Java Java was actually located on campus!  How cool is that, a coffee shop on campus?!  I guess they don't call it a campus for nothing :).

After getting back from Java Java, we found sound engineer Michael Quillman had arrived, soon followed by Eileen Allan. Eileen was the SDN Channel Program Manager in charge of the podcast. Finally Haley arrived, who got stuck in traffic. Haley is the Campus Ambassador Program Coordinator for the Western United States and Canada.

Setting up for the first CampusCast recording session.
From left to right: Michael Quillman, Jordan Slott,
Eilleen Allan, and Wanda Brown Nicholas

Once everybody had arrived, things got started. Teera was called up and put on speakerphone. A brief sound check was done just to make sure everything was working properly, and the interview began.

Jordan and Haley interviewing Teera over the phone.

Jordan, Haley, and Teera did two takes, which lasted about 40 minutes in total. Afterwards, a few minutes were spent taking pictures.

Jordan Slott and Haley Simon at CampusCast recording #1.

For more information on the first episode of CampusCast, see CampusCast Episode #1.

For future episodes of CampusCast, stay tuned to


After finishing the recording session, I went with Haley and Wanda to eat at one of the on campus dining halls. Jordan showed up shortly after. We got there a little before it opened at 11:00 a.m., and while we were waiting, Gary Serda, the Global Manager of the Campus Ambassador Program, showed up. We also ran into Haley's dad, who has been working at Sun since the early days (somewhere around the mid to late 1980s). I believe he said he worked on writing compilers for SunOS (as in Sun's original BSD Unix based operating system, not Solaris) back when Sun Workstations ran a Motorola 68000.

Eating lunch.
In front, from left to right: Wanda, Jordan, Haley's dad, Haley
In back, from left to right: Me (Daniel), Gary Serda

Tour of Menlo Park Campus

After lunch, I said goodbye to Haley and Wanda. Haley's dad and Gary then gave me a tour of the Executive Briefing Center, where there were all kinds of cool exhibits about Sun technology. There were exhibits about Real-Time Java, Sun Rays (stateless machines used to provide a client interface to back end server; Sun calls them "ultra thin clients"), and Sun servers. There was also an exhibit that showed one possible setup for a Blackbox data center using model Blackboxes.

There was one exhibit that demonstrated Real-Time Java. It consisted of a device, programmed in Java, that balanced a stick vertically by continuously monitoring the amount of force exerted on the device by the stick, and adjusting when slight fluctuations in the force were detected. It was quite cool.

Here is the model display of Blackboxes:

Project Blackbox display in the Executive Briefing Center.

Here's a picture of me standing next to the exhibit (for some reason, my tie is whack in ever picture I took during my visit :-)

Me next to the Project Blackbox exhibit

After giving me a tour of the Executive Briefing Center, Haley's dad got back to work, and Gary took me around the campus a bit. We visited Sun Labs, where I picked up some research papers written by researchers and interns. While in Sun Labs, we happened to walk into a SunSPOT lab where Martin Morrisette, a former Campus Ambassador from Canada, was working! He had just recently graduated and was now working in the SunSPOT lab. He and a few other people were working on some kind of wireless networking protocol for the SunSPOTs. They had SunSPOTs set up all over the wall. There were actually SunSPOTs throughout all of the Sun Labs building, which I believe was related to their research. All in all, it looked like a pretty neat place to work.

Gary took me around to look at a few more buildings and meet some people, and on the way, we ran into John Fowler, who is Executive Vice President of Systems at Sun. John was one of the early supporters of the Campus Ambassador Program. Gary told him I was a Campus Ambassador, to which he responded by being very friendly and welcoming. He told me that he and the rest of Systems are very interested to hear student's opinions and feedback about Solaris, and to keep him posted with any feedback I get from other students about Solaris.

Shortly after meeting John Fowler, we ran into Jeff Jackson, Vice President of Engineering at Sun. Jeff was one of the angel investors of the Campus Ambassador Program, helping get the program off the ground. He, like John Fowler, was an early supporter of the Campus Ambassador Program. It was nice to meet Jeff knowing that the Campus Ambassador Program might not have been possible without the support of him and John.

After meeting Jeff and John, Gary continued to take me around to visit some more people in various offices.

When Gary introduced me to people, I was consistently surprised by how warm and welcoming the reactions were when people heard I was a Campus Ambassador. People treated me as if I was very important and the work I was doing irreplaceable. It was quite a nice feeling to feel so important :). This is one of the reasons I really enjoy being a Campus Ambassador, and why I enjoy being part of Sun in general.

After completing the tour, I said goodbye to Gary and departed the Menlo Park Campus. This concluded the first part of my day.

Santa Clara Visit (Tour of Niagara Architecture Labs).

After spending the first part of my day at Sun's Menlo Park Campus, I went on to visit Sun's Santa Clara Campus, where I met with Niagara architect and Sun Distinguished Engineer Denis Sheahan to discuss OpenSPARC and took a tour of Sun's Niagara Labs.

When I first got to Sun's Santa Clara Campus, the first thing I noticed was a large shipping container in the parking lot, with Sun's logo on it. I immediately recognized this as a Sun Modular Datacenter, better known as Project Blackbox.

Sun Modular Datacenter (a.k.a. Project Blackbox).

After briefly taking a look at the Blackbox, I went on to my meeting with Sun Distinguished Engineer Denis Sheahan, which was in Building 11.

Here are a couple pictures (I've included more than one to give a better representation of what the building looks like):

Building 11, Santa Clara Campus.

Building 11 entrance, Santa Clara Campus.

When I met with Denis, we discussed OpenSPARC T2 a bit, which had been released just a couple weeks before. He then explained to me some of the issues with using the OpenSPARC in a desktop system because I indicated an interest in OpenSPARC implementation in a single user system.

We then went to see Thomas Thatcher, who does OpenSPARC FPGA implementation. He explained some of the more technical details of FPGA implementation, only some of which I followed. Part of what I did catch is that they only place a very stripped down version of a single OpenSPARC core on the FPGA, because this is the most that will fit on it. Thomas then showed me a Xilinx ml410 FPGA board that he used for prototyping the OpenSPARC FPGA implementaiton. I believe this was the same board he used in this video (accessible from These boards run around $3000 without an educational discount.

Building 11 sign, Santa Clara Campus.

After we finished meeting with Thomas Thatcher, Denis took me over to the Niagara Lab facilities. He gave me a brief tour, and showed me some of their next generation processors and systems, including some systems with Victoria Falls, which will eventually become the UltraSPARC T3. He even showed me systems with processors for the generation after Victoria Falls (!). He took apart a couple of systems to show me what was inside.

After looking around the labs, we discussed some future possibilities for OpenSPARC. I asked him from a technical standpoint what some obstacles would be if we (some other students and I) were to try to build a desktop system with it. He said one main issue would be single core performance, which could problem since the OpenSPARC single core performance is relatively poor. He also said that die size could be a problem, since the UltraSPARC die is also very large (I believe 32mm).

Getting ready to go home

As our conversation came to a close, I got ready to leave Sun's Santa Clara Campus, completing my very long day of visiting Sun. I had a lot of fun while I was there, meeting a lot of people and seeing a lot of things. It was nice to finally meet the people who I had talked to online or whose name I had seen, but who I had never met in person before: Wanda Brown Nicholas, Jordan Slott, Haley Simon, and Gary Serda.

Sunset at Menlo Park...

Menlo Park at dusk.


Hi Daniel

The next generation when it was released about a month back was branded "UltraSPARC T2 Plus"



Posted by Denis Sheahan on May 14, 2008 at 01:08 PM EDT #

Wowwwww.It seems to be tech heavean.No doubt Noone cant deny the role of SUN in Computing but their lost to Oracle was not great."Menlo Park at dusk." pic precisely describe SUN's condition.
You have done a great job by providing people like us to visit the Mecca of Java.

Posted by The TechBytes on January 01, 2011 at 05:12 PM EST #

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Daniel Rosenthal


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