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VA's Augustin talks Itanic, Sledgehammer

Says where Linux servers will be in year or two

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LinuxWorld VA Linux Systems founder Larry Augustin majored in chip design at Stanford, and so you couldn't invent a more likely kingmaker in the forthcoming Itanic vs x86-64 maul than Larry. VA is an Intel-only company, but AMD's evolutionary new 64-bit chip has already got serious open source backing here this week. And if that doesn't ring the bell marked "inflection point" - you're deaf.

So when The Register caught up with him at LinuxWorld this week we thought he could shed some light on where Linux servers would be in, say, a year or two's time. He did, but being Larry, he was a model of diplomacy.

"There's a lot of merit in the concept of what AMD has done. It's made it very simple and safe to move to 64 bits," he said. "It's just like what Intel did when it moved from the 286 to the 386. Um... OK... the 286 was broken - so let's say when Intel moved from the 8086 to the 80386. It's a very natural evolution."

It's too early to make a commitment to the Hammer at this stage, though he says. The simulator hasn't even been made public yet, and AMD isn't promising silicon until next year.

But that doesn't mean that Hammer will thrive, he reckons. Or if it can be competitive for very long.

"The question is, can AMD grow the performance to where IA-64 performance can go? Will it scale? The 386 was designed in 1985, and makes a lot of assumptions about things. Modern theory says that a lot of work should be done by the OS, not the chip, and the 386 does a lot of that," he says. "I mean the whole point of IA-64 is that x86 is broken. The idea of Move String Byte [MOVS] instructions is just broken! Now we have a chance to fix it."

Who'd buy an Itanic, though? "There's demand right now for 64 bits for Web caching," he says, "just to get that extra address space."

He doesn't buy in to the idea that Infiniband will immediately give box shifters the chance to compete with Wildfire-class servers either.

"The thing that's most interesting about Infiniband is that it's IPv6 at the protocol level. And since folks have already got ten times Gigabit Ethernet running in places, he says, you could map out a future where you don't need Infiniband at all. We had this gruesome vision of a SCSI-like mess of almost-standards stretching out into the future. Surely, we asked, no one would be running parallel buses in ten years time? No reckons Larry, everything's going to be packet switched, but there are other ways of getting there from here than with Infiniband, even though Intel is about the only body that can make us get there with a coherent standard.

Closer at hand, VA thinks it's on to a winner. It wants to out-Dell Dell with its build-to-order software scheme. Augustin reckons that 90 per cent of Linux installations are soon vaped in favour of a bespoke upgrade - and VA Linux now wants to do that tweaking and packaging on your behalf when you buy the box.

"We want to do for software what Dell did for hardware. There are over 700 packages on our Web site and your just point and click to complete your system," he told us.

We overheard that Augustin handed Michael Dell a T-shirt emblazoned with the VA Linux logo and the slogan "Trust - not AntiTrust". We didn't hear the Texan's reaction, but Augustin said he's not chasing Dell into high volume "cheap boxes" business. Dell doesn't do software, he says, and VA will soon be doing more software than hardware. ®

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