IBM to Use QuickTransit to Emulate X86 Linux on Power Servers
Published: August 22, 2006
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
As part of a bevy of Linux and open source announcements that IBM announced last week at LinuxWorld, the company said that it had partnered with Transitive to license its QuickTransit software emulation technology. With the license, IBM plans to allow Linux binaries compiled for X86 and X64 platforms to run unmodified on its Power-based pSeries and OpenPower servers.
While Transitive is not exactly a data center or household name, its software is certainly being used on an increasingly large number of computers. A variant of the QuickTransit software was used to create the "Rosetta" emulation environment that has allowed Apple Computer to shift from PowerPC chips to Intel Core chips in less than a year without disrupting end users or software developers who create applications for the Mac OS X platform. In the spring, Intel partnered with Transitive to pay for some development work, and in late June, the first fruits of that labor was a set of emulation and porting tools that allowed applications written for Sun Microsystems' Sparc/Solaris platform to be run on Linux boxes based on Xeon or Itanium chips. Silicon Graphics is also using QuickTransit to run applications written for its MIPS/Irix Origin servers and workstations to run on its Itanium/Linux line of servers, which are called the Altix line.
According to Scott Handy, vice president of worldwide Linux and open source software at Big Blue, the QuickTransit emulator is intended to speed up deployment of Linux on Power-based servers. IBM has about 2,100 applications that have been ported from X86 Linux to Power Linux to date, thanks in large part to the "Chiphopper" porting tools that IBM announced at LinuxWorld a year ago. But, says Handy, while Chiphopper has allowed IBM to get all the major applications to run natively on Linux on Power, there are always a bunch of applications at any Linux shop that have not yet been ported, and IBM has to provide a means to allow these applications to move.
"But don't misunderstand. This is not a replacement for native ports," says Handy.
IBM is working with QuickTransit on integrating the software with IBM's System p5 and OpenPower boxes as well as its Power-based JS21 blade servers. And while the software could be used on IBM's Power-based System i5 line, the statement of direction that IBM put out concerning the software did not say that. Then again, in typical IT vendor fashion, IBM's statement did not even mention Transitive or QuickTransit by name. What IBM did say is that it plans to announce its X86 Linux emulation offering in the fourth quarter, and then ship it in the first quarter of 2007.
One of the things that IBM needs to work on with customers--and why it is giving such a large lead time until the product is available--is the licensing terms for the Linux applications. In many cases, according to Handy, Linux programs are explicitly licenses for X86 or X64 platforms. So these licenses will have to be tweaked in some cases to allow them to run atop an emulation layer that sits inside a Power-based server.
As always, Bob Wiederhold, president and chief executive officer at Transitive, was mum on what IBM's other plans might be, or indeed, what other vendors might be up to in terms of licensing and using the QuickTransit emulation software and tools. QuickTransit can take mainframe or Unix applications and port them to any Unix-like platform based on Xeon, Opteron, Itanium, or Power architectures. "This is the first thing that IBM is announcing," explained Wiederhold cryptically. "We're not necessarily stopping here. You have to start somewhere."
QuickTransit is not a product that you can buy as an end user. The way Transitive makes money is by selling a licensing agreement to the QuickTransit platform to a vendor, which pays a multi-million dollar fee for that license. The vendor also pays an annual maintenance fee that runs into the hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, and then a per-machine license fee for every box they ship with QuickTransit on it. Apple is eating the cost of the QuickTransit-based Rosetta environment with each sale of a Mac or Xserve. IBM may do this as well, and refused to even discuss what its options were. No matter what, QuickTransit certainly is not free, even if customers are not directly charged for it.
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