Transitive Converted to Power Systems Software Lab
May 17, 2010 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Remember Transitive? That funky upstart company that had created a clever emulator called QuickTransit that could potentially upset a lot of balances of power in the server racket just before IBM showed foresight and bought it? Well, nothing much has happened with Transitive since IBM acquired it for an undisclosed amount in November 2008, but now the formerly independent company is the foundation of a new Power Systems development laboratory located in Manchester, England.
As you will recall, Transitive was founded in 2000 by Alasdair Rawsthorne, a computer science professor at the University of Manchester who had spent the prior five years working with students on deconstructing programs at runtime and then optimizing them. It occurred to Rawsthorne, who is also a processor designer, that this deconstruction and optimization technique could be used to create an emulation tool that could convert programs compiled in one operating system on one particular processor to be run on another operating system and another chip architecture. The software works, and in fact was a key ingredient that allowed Apple to switch from IBM and Motorola PowerPC chips to Intel Core and Xeon processors in its Macs and Xserves while not requiring people to recompile their applications.
The original QuickTransit could move applications off mainframes and onto Itanium or RISC machines running Unix or Linux, and Rawsthorne said in 2004, when Transitive came out of stealth mode, that there was no reason why it could not be used to port emulated AS/400 applications to a new architecture. As far as I know, IBM has only used QuickTransit to create the PowerVM Lx86 runtime, which allows Linux applications compiled for 32-bit X86 processors to run on Linux partitions on Power-based systems. But for all we know, IBM has it running in all kinds of places. (I suspect not.)
IBM had about 70 people in Manchester, presumably nearly all of them affiliated with QuickTransit, which was put into the Power Systems Software unit, the systems software arm of the Power Systems division. And so IBM has opened up a new software lab in Manchester that has taken on new work, including making Power Systems machines and their logical partitioning more fault tolerant and secure. Exactly how this is being done, and on what timeframe, IBM did not say.
The mystery to me is why this lab is not dedicated to making emulators to port HP-UX, Sparc, and what the heck, Unisys mainframe workloads onto Power-based machines. Or better still, creating an AS Emulation Environment for i 7.1, akin to the System/36 Emulation Environment (S36EE) and System/38 Emulation Environment (S38EE) in the original OS/400 and still supported to this day. QuickTransit could be used to help customers avoid having to do program conversion and yet still get onto new Power7 iron and i 7.1 today while doing the conversion at their leisure in the future. Like in 2025.
But what do I know? I am just an English major. But the lads and lassies in Manchester know what I am talking about, and I am saying to you: Do this ASEE thing I am talking about and you will help IBM modernize its Power Systems i customer base more quickly than it is doing now. The machines clearly have CPW to burn, so let’s burn it and justify those high prices that IBM is charging for i 7.1.
It would be nice to have an emulated i 7.1 development machine, too, perhaps based on a laptop or an entry X64 server and running on Ubuntu Linux. Something real, real cheap that would allow for applications to be compiled and tested on the box, which apparently you can do using emulated compilers on an emulated platform riding atop QuickTransit.