Intel Taps Transitive For Itanium, Xeon Boost

Intel Corp. has opted to work with Transitive Corp., a pioneer of processor virtualization and emulation technology, to allow software code originally written for RISC processors to operate on the

March 7, 2006

4 Min Read
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LONDON — Intel Corp. has opted to work with Transitive Corp., a pioneer of processor virtualization and emulation technology, to allow software code originally written for RISC processors to operate on the Itanium 2 and Xeon processors, Transitive said Tuesday (March 7).

The deal, despite being non-exclusive, is being presented as a booster for the Itanium community and as an attempt by Intel to fight back against rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. in the high-end computer and server markets. Intel’s next step could be to use Transitive technology to take communications software—frequently written and compiled for RISC processors such as PowerPC and MIPS—and let it run transparently on Intel processors. Ultimately, it could start designing processors to assist the Transitive software.

Intel (Santa Clara, Calif.) and Transitive (Los Gatos, Calif.) are focusing initial work on developing QuickTransit hardware virtualization products for Itanium and Xeon processors for market release this year, the companies said.

Transitive’s technology is powerful because, by performing appropriate transformations on the fly, it enables applications to run transparently across multiple processor and operating system pairs without any source code or binary changes.

The company was founded in 2000 as a University of Manchester spin-off by Alisdair Rawsthorne, who serves as chief technology officer. It has developed a retargetable, dynamic binary translator, providing compatibility between pairs of different processor instruction sets. Typically QuickTransit achieves 80 percent of the performance of native code, although in some circumstances the translated code can run faster than the native code, the company has found. And the development marked the theoretical end of the microprocessor dependence that had hallmarked the electronics industry in the 1980s and 1990s.Transitive is best known for the PowerPC-to-x86 QuickTransit software that forms the basis of Rosetta from Apple Computer. This software is included in Core Duo iMacs based in Intel processors and allows the iMacs to run legacy code written for Apple computers based on the PowerPC processor architecture. Transitive has also worked with Silicon Graphics Inc., to enable a similar processor transition.

In the latest deal, Intel has agreed to provide funding and access to engineering resources to ease the development and testing of QuickTransit software for Xeon and Itanium processors. Intel has also agreed to work with Transitive to market the QuickTransit technology to computer makers, software vendors and the rest of the IT supply chain, Transitive said.

“With Intel, we are focused on providing binary translation technology products to easily shift existing legacy code or application packages that have been compiled on non-Intel platforms to run without modification on Intel Itanium and Intel Xeon processor-based platforms,” said Bob Wiederhold, president and chief executive officer of Transitive, in a statement.

“Based on strong customer demand to migrate off RISC architectures, Intel is working closely with Transitive to accelerate migration to Intel Itanium' processor-based platforms,” said Kirk Skaugen, vice president, Digital Enterprise Group at Intel, in the same statement.

When asked about the nature of the Intel funding, he said: “They are not taking a stake in Transitive. They are funding specific projects on processor-operating system pairs.”

“Apple is a good example of what Transitive can do for a company. Apple is shipping 4.5 million computers a year, and they are now moving over to x86. That’s a significant chunk of business for Intel, enabled in large part by Transitive technology,” said Wiederhold. “If you look at Itanium, it does not have the broad software ecosystem of other processors. The Itanium community is constantly looking for ways to build their software base. And there is still a lot of applications written for Unix on Power, Sparc and MIPS, which could go to Linux on x86 or Xeon. And the communications space is dominated by the MIPS and PowerPC architectures,” said Wiederhold.Initially the collaboration between Intel and Transitive will produce enhanced QuickTransit software, Rawsthorne said. There is a lot of information generated by the processor that could be used to improve the running of QuickTransit, if it was made available to the programmers.

“The next step could be that you are going to get hardware assists in the processor,” said Rawsthorne. “But, for now, there are lots of things we can do to make the software run even better.” Intel has its own virtualization technology, called VMware, and the collaboration between Intel and Transitive will integrate these two technologies, Transitive said.

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