Azul Systems Sues Sun Over Java Licensing
March 20, 2006 Timothy Prickett Morgan
One of the coolest and potentially disruptive technologies of 2004 and 2005 was the Java appliances launched by Azul Systems, a startup founded by some chip designers and being run by a bunch of ex-employees from Sun Microsystems. Sun and Azul are apparently not seeing eye-to-eye about Azul’s status as a licensee of Java technology, so much so that Azul last week sued Sun.
According to a statement put out by Azul, which characterized the suit as “fending off predatory attacks” from Sun, its lawyers have filed a suit in the U.S. Federal District Court for Northern California to get declaratory relief from unfounded claims that Sun is alleged to have made against Azul, including patent infringement and misappropriation of trade secrets. Azul claims that Sun repeatedly has threatened to bring out the lawyers if Azul didn’t give Sun a stake in itself and pay “exorbitant” up-front fees and ongoing royalties for each sale of its Compute Appliances, which are special Java computing engines that offload JVM work from general-purpose servers–the kind that Sun sells and the kind that it would like to sell a lot of to support Java workloads, which ain’t exactly lean and mean. The Compute Appliance is based on a homegrown chip called Vega, which was created specifically to run JVMs; Azul can pack up to 384 Vega cores in an 11U chassis, consuming about 3.2 kilowatts of juice and replacing hundreds to thousands of JVMs that would otherwise be scattered on X86, X64, or RISC processors in regular servers. At a price tag of around $800,000, this big Compute Appliance is offering killer price/performance, and Azul definitely wants to give the impression that this, and not intellectual property issues, are what the fight between itself and Sun is all about.
“The unfortunate irony here is that Sun, a company with deep roots in research and development that actively markets sharing and expanding the technology landscape, has seen fit to adopt an anti-competitive strategy that stifles key innovation around the Java platform simply because they didn’t invent it,” said Stephen DeWitt, president and chief executive officer of Azul, in the statement announcing the lawsuit. DeWitt is an ex-Sun employee, who came to Sun after the company acquired his server appliance company, Cobalt Networks, for $2 billion in stock in 2000. “Sun seems to be in disbelief that a young, privately held company can independently create such industry-defining technology. Azul has been forced into this legal process as a last resort.”