Workstations open up to their own kind

May 8, 1991

The computer workstation market is shifting to open-system architectures,which use off-the-shelf microprocessor chips and other widelyavailable components. Software applications written to run onone system can operate on any other workstation using the

The computer workstation market is shifting to open-system architectures,which use off-the-shelf microprocessor chips and other widelyavailable components. Software applications written to run onone system can operate on any other workstation using the sametype of microprocessor. Unfortunately for users, the computermakers have not agreed on a single type of microprocessor.

Sun Microsystems, a major supplier of workstations to the medicalimaging industry, uses a microprocessor called Spark, which isbased on reduced instruction set computing (RISC) technology.

RISC technology also serves as the basis for a microprocessordeveloped by IBM. A third RISC system, produced by MIPS ComputerSystems, will be adopted by the 21 computer vendors that formedthe advanced computing environment (ACE) initiative earlier thisyear (SCAN 4/24/91).

Although computers using different RISC systems can be linkedby networks, they will not use the same software applications,said Byron Ryono, director of Spark software technology marketingfor Sun.

"They (the ACE-initiative vendors) could easily have cometo Spark and joined the party. This would have created more ofan open environment. They chose not to, creating instead anotherstandard, which many people feel is not necessary," Ryonosaid.

Sun does not control Spark technology. Spark International,an independent group of semiconductor, systems and software companies,shares with some large end-users the rights to the Spark technologyand provides it to all members of the group. Spark chips are manufacturedby the semiconductor companies in Spark International and areoffered to anyone who wants to buy them, he said.

Sun buys its Spark chips from these semiconductor manufacturers,as do the other system vendors endorsing Spark. The major Japanesefirms Toshiba, Fujitsu and Matsushita are among workstation suppliersusing Spark, Ryono said.