Monthly Archives: August 2006

Thanks, ACC.

In an earlier post, I referenced the “Reebok Rules” for in-house counsel. I had many requests for copies of this as evidently it isn’t available on the web.

Thanks to the great folks at the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), I am able to provide a copy here in PDF.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am on the board of ACC and Sun has been a long time member. It’s a great organization for in-house professionals.


Filed under Sun

Narwhals and “CoolThreads”

Last night, my son asked me “what kind of computers does your company make?” I was eager for the opportunity to get him excited about what I do and where I work. So, I told him about our new X64 enterprise systems. I even tried discussing our plans to open source Java. In the end, I failed miserably. Instead, of childish wonder, all I saw in his eyes was polite boredom.

You see, his 10-year old frame of reference consists of the Apple systems we use at home (love my new MacBook Pro). This was disappointing for me. I wanted him to be proud of where I work and at least minimally competitive in that classic playground duel of…”My dad works at…”. Granted I didn’t expect to dethrone the traditional incumbents, but a father has to dream.

Five years ago, I had the unique opportunity to spend time exploring Ellesmere Island. Located high in the Arctic Circle, it is a place of overwhelming natural beauty and rich in archeological sites. They say everyone has a place that they connect with above all others. For me, it is Ellesmere.

On this trip, I was accompanied by a fascinating guide who was also a trained Canadian biologist. Over the course of two weeks, we kayaked and hiked under the midnight sun and he introduced me to Walrus, Eider Ducks, Arctic Hares, Ring Seals, Musk-Oxen and Narwhals (those are Narwhal tusks in the picture below).

I returned home from this exploration with a renewed appreciation for nature and an awakening to the perils of global warming. The fact that I could hike around in shorts and a windbreaker less than 500 miles from the North Pole was a good clue that something was happening.

Over the following years, my concerns have increased. A visit to Canada’s Columbia Icefield earlier this year, didn’t give me any comfort. Nor did, reading Jared Diamond’s excellent book “Collapse”.

Despite this, I remain optimistic about the power of innovation to create solutions to the problems of global warming and our increasing dependency on fossil fuels. Over the past year, we have seen increased investment in alternative energy. Demand for hybrid and electric automobiles is increasing as is utilization of solar and wind power. And, I’m really happy to that Sun is doing it’s part with our new line of “CoolThreads” T1000 and T2000 servers. These are so amazingly energy efficient that California’s largest public utility now provides a rebate toward their purchase. This is a first for the computer industry. As companies increase reliance on data centers, these servers will help dramatically reduce cost, space and energy.

And, while my little 5th grader may not think our products are as “cool” as an iPod. Someday, he will.


Filed under Sun

Mr. Edison’s lawyer

The year is 1882. Thomas Edison is competing with George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla to bring electric power to the consumer. He speaks to his lawyer about the project.

Edison: “I’ve got this idea. I want to bring electric power to every residence in Manhattan.”

Lawyer: “It can’t be done!”

Edison: “Sorry, that’s my bad ear – I couldn’t hear what you said. Anyway, what we will do is build these huge turbines powered by dams or coal. These will in turn drive large generators which will transmit electricity to transformers and then deliver it for home use. Cool, huh?”

Lawyer: “I’m telling you, it can’t be done. And even if it could, do you understand the multitude of legal issues, potential liabilities, contracts that would need to be negotiated, rights-of-way and other approvals we would need to receive?”

Edison: “What? Quit speaking into my bad ear. It will be great! Bringing electric power to the home will create new businesses and other opportunities to benefit mankind.”

Lawyer: “That sounds a tad bit nebulous. You haven’t actually invented anything yet to use this electricity – have you?”

Edison: “Sorry, still can’t hear you. Can you have all the legal stuff done by Friday?”

This year, we went live with the Sun Grid. For those of you not familiar with the concept, a compute grid is an aggregation of horizontally-scaled computers with storage and software. Combined they provide significant compute power. And, with the Sun Grid, that power is available to companies, developers and individual users, over the Internet, with payment by credit card or PayPal. No 200 page agreement – just a “click and accept” license.

To illustrate the concept of the Sun Grid, we frequently point to the development of consumer electric power at the turn of the 20th century. At that time, Westinghouse, Edison and Tesla were battling with competing solutions – AC or DC or AC/DC (sorry, couldn’t resist). The complexity of these solutions, including the creation of hydroelectric plants, enormous turbines and transformers and wiring of cities and homes must have seemed insurmountable to all but these three talented individuals. And the potential use of electric power was certainly unimaginable to everyday consumers. Yet, a little more than a century later, we plug an appliance into a socket and it works. I don’t know about you, but I’m not too interested in who manufactured the generators or electrical lines that carry the electricity I use – I just want it to work. (By the way, a good book on this subject is “Empires of Light”).

The idea behind the Sun Grid is that in the future, just as with electric power, individuals will access their compute power, software applications and storage over the Internet. It is an intriguing idea that presents an interesting, but complex array of legal and regulatory challenges. In the course of developing the Sun Grid we have had to consider legal issues involving: data privacy, data security, regulations applicable to on-line commerce, DMCA, tax, Sarbanes-Oxley, Digital Rights Management, state and federal consumer protection statutes, licensing of third-party applications in a hosted environment and US export controls. We have also looked at laws that are applicable to certain types of customers and markets. For example, there are specific legal frameworks that apply to certain heavily regulated industries such as banking (Graham Leach Bliley) and health care (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). And, the number of laws and regulations we will need to consider will only increase as the Sun Grid becomes available outside the US.

Thankfully, (although I’m sure they felt like Mr. Edison’s lawyer at first), we have some very talented people who quietly, behind the scenes are getting the job done.

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Working to be unnoticed.

Years ago, over lunch I was recruiting someone to join our legal team. As we walked into Sun’s cafeteria, she stopped, looked around at the employees in the food lines and said “This place looks like the lunch room of the United Nations”. Her comment caused me to pause. To that point, I had never noticed the incredible rich diversity of the individuals surrounding me. In Silicon Valley, our industry and at Sun, diversity is generally the norm.

Our organization has a team of employees that focus on issues of diversity and inclusion. Participation is voluntary, but always large and enthusiastic. Their efforts have been recognized by awards from the MCCA and the CMP. The team has developed of variety of programs around mentoring, internships and recruiting. We are also an active participant in an array of diversity focused organizations.

Some of their ideas have been very creative. One I particularly enjoy helps to address the challenge of creating connections between members of a dispersed global organization. It’s something we call “Day in the Life”. Once a quarter, we pick an employee who describes, in a recorded presentation, the business, legal, and social environment in which he or she works. Personal insights are often provided as well. It’s an interesting way for someone working in the Bay Area or Bangalore to understand what it is like to work in Dubai, or Budapest or Caracas or…

My observation is that it takes a tremendous amount of dedication and focus to ensure that diversity is something that we don’t notice – it just is.

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Alumni Blog

I was surfing with a friend last weekend who is CFO of a very hot private start-up. Actually, let me clarify. He was surfing. I was doing this. Don’t kid yourself – surfing is harder than it looks.

As we floated between sets, he shared with me that his executive team had noticed that their best employees seemed to all have worked for Sun at some point in their career. This lead to a discussion about things that make this place special and keep it interesting from the legal side of things.

I gave him a recent example. It’s no secret that we are taking actions to reduce our operating expenses, including eliminating jobs. Many of the employees who are impacted are also active members of our blogging community. Naturally, the question is what do we do? Should we shut off their access to blogs@sun? That is choice most companies would make. Indeed, some attorneys advised that we take this approach. The thinking was that it would minimize disruption, negative external perceptions and reduce the risk of litigation.

Here’s what we did instead. We created a site for all former employees to blog as part of our Sun alumni community. I have to admit that I held my breath when the site went live. But, far from being a magnet for angry ex-employees or litigation, the site has developed into a wonderful and supportive community made up of some very talented and creative people. For those of you seeking these types of employees. Look here.


Filed under Sun

This should be interesting.

I’m taking the plunge. Along with more than 3,000 of my fellow employees at Sun and our CEO (go here he needs the traffic 😉 ), I’ve decided to add my external voice.

My primary motivation is a question that I am frequently asked. It comes in two forms. From others in my profession, it is articulated as: “What is it like being the General Counsel of a Fortune 500 company like Sun Microsystems?” From my children it is posed as: “Daddy, what do you DO at work all day?”

In the future, I’ll share with you my observations on life as a GC, my views on a variety of legal issues and business trends and my thoughts about what makes this company so unique. Given the sensitive nature of much that I do and my professional obligations as a licensed attorney, it will be at times challenging to be as open as I would like. But, I’ll do my best. Like I said, this should be interesting.

I’ll also give you an idea of what it is like to “do the legal thing” in-house. The title comes from what are known in my world as the “Reebok Rules”. Written by that company’s former GC, Jack Douglass, III, they describe rules for being a successful in-house attorney. They include things like: “Learn the Business”, “Be a Problem Solver” and “Make the Coffee”. The latter is what I’m going to do right now…


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