Products include computer servers and workstations based on its own SPARC processors as well as AMD's Opteron and Intel's Xeon processors; storage systems; and, a suite of software products including the Solaris Operating System, developer tools, Web infrastructure software, and identity management applications. Other technologies of note include the Java platform and NFS.
Sun is a proponent of open systems in general and UNIX in particular and a major contributor of open source software.
Sun's manufacturing facilities are located in Hillsboro, Oregon and Linlithgow, Scotland.
The initial design for what became Sun's first Unix workstation, the Sun 1, was conceived by Andy Bechtolsheim when he was a graduate student at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. He originally designed the SUN workstation for the Stanford University Network communications project as a personal CAD workstation. It was designed as a 3M computer: 1 MIPS, 1 Megabyte and 1 Megapixel. It was designed around the Motorola 68000 processor with an advanced Memory management unit (MMU) to support the Unix operating system with virtual memory support, He built the first ones from spare parts obtained from Stanford's Department of Computer Science and Silicon Valley supply houses.
On February 12, 1982 Vinod Khosla, Andy Bechtolsheim, and Scott McNealy, all Stanford graduate students, founded Sun Microsystems. Bill Joy of Berkeley (a primary developer of BSD), joined soon after and is counted as one of the original founders. The Sun name is derived from the initials of the Stanford University Network. Sun was profitable from its first quarter in July 1982.
Sun's initial public offering was in 1986 under the stock symbol SUNW, for Sun Workstations (later Sun Worldwide). The symbol was changed in 2007 to JAVA; Sun stated that the brand awareness associated with its Java platform better represented the company's current strategy.
Sun's logo, which features four interleaved copies of the word sun, was designed by professor Vaughan Pratt, also of Stanford University. The initial version of the logo had the sides oriented horizontally and vertically, but it was subsequently redesigned so as to appear to stand on one corner.
The first Sun workstations ran a Version 7 Unix System port by UniSoft on 68000 processor-based machines.
The "Bubble" and its aftermath
During the dot-com bubble, Sun experienced dramatic growth in revenue, profits, share price, and expenses. Some part of this was due to genuine expansion of demand for web-serving cycles, but another part was synthetic, fueled by venture capital-funded startups building out large, expensive Sun-centric server presences in the expectation of high traffic levels that never materialized. The share price in particular increased to a level that even the company's executives were hard-pressed to defend. In response to this business growth, Sun expanded aggressively in all areas: head-count, infrastructure, and office space.
The bursting of the bubble in 2001 was the start of a period of poor business performance for Sun. Sales dropped as the growth of online business failed to meet predictions. As online businesses closed and their assets were auctioned off, a large amount of high-end Sun hardware was available very cheaply. Much like Apple, Sun relied a great deal on hardware sales.
Multiple quarters of substantial losses and declining revenues have led to repeated rounds of layoffs, executive departures, and expense-reduction efforts. In December of 2001 the share price dropped to the 1998 pre-bubble level of about one hundred dollars or so and then kept going, a rapid fall even by the standards of the high tech sector at that time. The stock dipped below 10 dollars a year later, one-tenth of its 1990 value, then quickly bounced back to 20, where it has hovered ever since. In mid-2004, Sun ceased manufacturing operations at their Newark, California facility and consolidated all of the company's US-based manufacturing operations to their Hillsboro, Oregon facility, as part of continued cost-reduction efforts. In 2006 Sun closed the Newark campus completely and moved 2,300 staff to its other campuses in the area.
Many companies (like E-Trade and Google) chose to build Web applications based on large numbers of the less expensive PC-class x86-architecture servers running Linux, rather than a smaller number of high-end Sun servers. They reported benefits including substantially lower expenses (both acquisition and maintenance) and greater flexibility based on the use of open-source software. That trend is slowing and may be reversing, given (1) the throughput and efficiency of Sun's new horizontally-scaled systems (see below) and (2) the fact that both Sun's flagship Solaris operating system and its UltraSPARC T1 processor are now fully open-source.
Higher level telecoms control systems such as NMAS and OSS service predominantly use Sun equipment. This use is due mainly to the company basing its products around a mature and very stable version of the Unix operating system and the support service that Sun provides.