Hardware virtualization: Software porting yesterday's problem?

Los Gatos (CA) - UPDATE - A software company claims that it has found a solution for firms to avoid substantial costs for porting software to different platforms. Called a hardware virtualization platform, Transitive's QuickTransit software runs above the OS level and translates code - reaching up to 80 percent of native performance.

Call it an advanced form of emulation, QuickTransit might be an option for IT managers to bring applications cheaper and faster to updated hardware platforms. While enterprise applications today require sometimes enormous resources to be ported from aged to current platforms, the software promises to achieve the same result much quicker.

According to the company, QuickTransit allows applications to run on multiple hardware platforms without source code or binary changes. Wrapped into the phrase "hardware virtualization", the QuickTransit "front-end decoder" reads in blocks of binary code and translates them into an intermediate representation (IR). An "optimization kernel" then optimizes the code represented in the IR, and a "back-end code generator" encodes the optimized blocks for the target processor and caches them.

Since only ten percent of the code in a typical application is executed 90 percent of the time, QuickTransit looks for frequently executed blocks of code and optimizes them as they are identified, Transitive said. This results in higher performance than one would expect from this process, up to 80 percent of native performance, according to the company. Transitive claims that mainframe applications could run up to eight times faster on today's enterprise platforms, as current system are up to ten times quicker than ten year old mainframes.

In operation, QuickTransit uses 500 kByte of memory and requires approximately 10-30 MB of additional memory for large server applications, or around 25 percent of program memory for smaller applications. The software initially is available for Opteron environments with support for MIPS, Power and PowerPC, and mainframe binaries as well as Itanium system with support for MIPS, Power and PowerPC, x86, and mainframe binaries.

Transitive's approach hints that universal computing could in fact be in reach. Initially, the model is targeting large enterprises with significant amount of porting to be done and maintained every year. According to Bob Wiederhold, CEO of Transitive, QuickTransit will ship on systems delivered from builders of enterprise computer systems. This allows their customers to run more applications than before without porting work. Transitive intends to charge those computer manufacturers a one-time license fee as well as a yearly usage model fee and a support charge.

Wiederhold declined to comment on specific pricing models, since these would "depend on the customer's deployment strategy." He however stated that corporations will see significant savings with using Transitive's software: "Compared to the cost of porting and maintenance, QuickTransit may only be a tenth of that," Wiederhold said.

Wiederhold said that hardware virtualization could have a much broader future than just the use in entrprise-sized environements. Especially the embedded devices and consumer electronics industry would be able to benefit from this approach. He sees no opportunity in the x86 desktop market: "We have seen few people who would like to move away from the x86 appplication market," Wiederhold said. If desktop, then it might be rather the Apple computer that would receive a software solution from Transitive, he said.