IBM Breaks Through 2,500 Linux Applications on Power Chips
December 4, 2006 Timothy Prickett Morgan
After years of putting in energy and money to get independent software vendors to support the Power platforms running Linux applications created by these ISVs, IBM says that it has broken through the 2,500 applications barrier with Linux on Power. That is a tripling of the installed base of Linux on Power applications in the past two years.
According to Adam Jollans, worldwide open source strategy manager at IBM, these 2,500 applications are real ISV applications, too–not the thousands of widgets, gadgets, and otherwise interesting applications that are incorporated into Linux distributions from Red Hat, Novell, and Terra Soft Solutions. It is hard to get a good estimate on the total number of Linux applications out there, but the consensus seems to be that there are perhaps around 10,000 Linux applications in the world, and the vast majority of them run on X86 and X64 platforms, and then are ported to Power and Itanium processors and maybe to MIPS and Sparc architectures in special niche cases.
IBM is very keen on getting Linux applications ported to Power family of chips–that’s the Power4 or Power5 big guns, the PowerPC 970MP for entry servers and workstations, its Cell broadband processor, and various PowerPC embedded designs–because anyone looking to build a platform is going to take a hard look at the software ecosystem surrounding a platform before deciding to support that chip architecture. The X64 architecture, supported by Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, is a no-brainer to support. Still, for a lot of applications, a Power chip is an equally valid choice, and sometimes it is a better choice–but only if the software ecosystem is there.
“There’s a stage where there are enough applications to ensure that a platform has critical mass,” says Jollans. “That’s on the order of thousands of applications.”
Historically, IBM is happy to get 3,000 or 4,000 applications certified on a modern release of its AIX Unix variant, with a total of about 6,000 AIX applications in the entire portfolio. Similarly, Sun Microsystems is bragging about heading toward 3,000 applications on its Opteron/Solaris combination. (Which still doesn’t compare well with the 12,000 applications Sun used to brag about on the Sparc/Solaris platform.) And while the Itanium chip now boasts 10,000 applications, those applications are being double or triple counted in some cases on HP-UX, Windows, Linux, OpenVMS, and Tandem NonStop platforms.
In February 2005, IBM launched a set of tools called Chiphopper, which helped ISVs with Linux on X86 and X64 platforms to port their code over to Linux on Power. Many of the ISVs who have ported their code to IBM’s System i5 platform have done so using Chiphopper.
Incidentally, the application count that IBM is talking about is for native code. IBM is working with Transitive, the same company that worked with Apple Computer to create the “Rosetta” emulation environment that lets PowerPC-based Mac applications run on X64 Core processors from Intel, that will allow X86 and X64 Linux binaries to be transformed on the fly to run on Power processors with the magic QuickTransit microcode doing the translation. IBM issued a statement of direction on this Transitive product in August, and it is expected to be delivered in the first quarter of 2007 as the Portable Advanced Virtualization Emulator, or PAVE.
PAVE is, of course, analogous to the Portable Application Solutions Environment, which is an AIX runtime environment that Big Blue embedded inside OS/400 and now i5/OS to let compiled AIX applications run on its iSeries and System i5 servers. Because AIX and OS/400-i5/OS both run on Power platforms, adding in this runtime was fairly simple for IBM and the runtime was mostly transparent to iSeries and System i5 customers. PAVE is a bit more complex that that, but it will very likely be equally transparent.