Microsoft Looks Parallel With New Hire, Analysts Say

Microsoft's hiring of a chip designer Marc Tremblay from Sun Microsystems could be part of a giant push by the software giant to develop hardware and software for parallel computing, analysts said on Thursday.

Tremblay this week joined Microsoft as a distinguished engineer after previously serving as chief technology officer in Sun's microelectronics business. He will manage a team of technologists in the strategic software/silicon architectures division, a little-known group that sets the strategy for software and hardware technologies for Microsoft.

In multithread computing tasks are divided up and executed simultaneously across multiple processor cores and threads. The concept is often called parallel computing and Tremblay has made major contributions to the field.

He holds over 100 patents related to computer architecture, and played a key role in the development of Sun's multithreaded and multicore Sparc processors.

Tremblay's background could be instrumental in helping Microsoft build speedier software, like future operating systems, said Dan Olds, principal analyst with Gabriel Consulting Group.

"He's definitely someone who'd be able to give them pretty good advise on it," Olds said.

Microsoft's Windows OS has been said to run faster on CPUs with up to four processor cores, after which performance levels may deteriorate as more cores are added.

Tremblay's well-rounded approach to computing allows him to encourage developers to write software that can make better use of processors, said Michael Cherry, lead analyst at Directions on Microsoft. That may be handy as organizations use software-based technologies such as virtualization to squeeze more computing power out of fewer processors.

Microsoft doesn't build hardware for servers, but Tremblay also shares good relationships with chip makers that could help bring Microsoft's software in line with processor development, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight64.

"[Microsoft] certainly wants to be able to influence chip makers on what they should be adding to the next generation of chips," Brookwood said.

A number of other Microsoft projects could use Tremblay's expertise, analysts said. Microsoft will likely involve Tremblay in designing multicore chips for future Xbox consoles, Olds said. Microsoft could have plans to add functionality to Xbox consoles, for which specialized chips may be needed, Olds said.

Microsoft may also be looking to bring Xbox chip development in-house, which Tremblay can help enable, Olds said. The company has had problems with design partner IBM in developing chips for the current Xbox 360 gaming console.

"It worked out well IBM and Microsoft, but it wasn't without fits and starts and delay," Olds said.

Analysts agreed that Tremblay's role will be across multiple projects, as he is too talented to be stuck on a single project.

"There does not have to be some master plan to which he has to be vital. It could be that they hired some person who is talented and decided to snap him up," Brookwood said.

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