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IBM gets into server transit business

Goes Transitive for dynamic apps translation

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Put a Big Blue wrapper around your legacy apps and cut data centre operational expenses, floor space and energy costs. IBM has bought a company so it can migrate applications from competitor's boxes onto its own mainframes, PowerPC and Intel servers.

The company is Transitive and its QuickTransit technology can dynamically translate code from from X86 - AMD or Intel, PowerPC, MIPS and mainframe systems to execute on Itanium, PowerPC and X86 chips.

Transitive logo

It is privately-held, being founded in 2000 and having passed through three funding rounds - October 2000, Frebruary 2002, September 2004 - which raised $24m from venture capital outfits who will now be wealthier than they were a few days ago. It announced SGI as its first customer in 2005 followed by Apple and then IBM. The company has its headquarters in Silicon Valley's Los Gatos with its engineering base in Manchester, UK. Founder and chief technology officer Alasdair Rawsthorne (pictured left) developed the technology while a research student lecturert at the University of Manchester in 1995.

Alasdair Rawsthorne

The company has shipped 15 million copies of its software. Apple has been Transitive's most public customer, using QuickTransit in its Rosetta software to dynamically translate applications compiled for PowerPC-based Macs and enable them to run on its new line of Intel X86-based Macs without having to be re-compiled. Mac users could migrate to the Intel Macs and, largely, continue to run their existing PowerPC-based Mac applications unaltered.

The translation had limits as it intercepted instructions from an application to the PowerPC hardware and altered them to run on the Intel chip. But if the application code also made calls to PowerPC Mac OS facilities, like kernel extensions, that didn't exist in the X86 Mac OS then it couldn't translate those.

The dynamic translation adds to the processing load of an application and translated apps will run 10 to 20 to 30 to 40 to 50 percent slower, possibly more, depending on their CPU-intensiveness. There are optimisers to lessen the hit, but it will still be there.

IBM uses Transitive's technology in its PowerVM Lx86 - previously System P Application Virtual Environment or PAVE - product which enables Linux X86 workloads to run on PowerPC hardware. The technology could be used to let mainframe Linux apps run on PowerPC too.

Fujitsu Siemens Computers and Red Hat are also Transitive partners.

Ganging up on Sun SPARC

HP is another customer - well, somebody had to be using the Itanium translator - to help unhappy Sun customers migrate from SPARC to HP's Itanium and X86 kit.

Earlier this year Sun also began using Transitive's technology to enable Solaris/SPARC applications to run on X86 hardware. The intention was to run X86-based apps on Solaris/SPARC hardware too.

Transitive's software also runs under Hyper-V so that you run the SPARC app in, say, SuSE Linux, itself running as a VM under Hyper-V along with QuickTransit 1.5 for Solaris/SPARC-to-Linux/x86-64 and, hey presto, your legacy SPARC app runs in a consolidated and virtualised X86 server.

The acquisition terms were not revealed. As Transitive has raised $24m with no funding rounds since 2004 and has 15 million product units installed since announcing SGI as its first customer in 2005, it could be approaching a $100m a year revenue run rate and be worth up to a quarter of a billion dollars. How much would IBM pay to decimate Sun's SPARC customer base? ®

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