Archive for March, 2009

Whither IBM, Sun and Sparc?

So the twitterati and blog space is alight with discussion that IBM is to buy Sun for $6.25 billion. The only way we’ll know if there is any truth to it is if it goes ahead, these rumors are never denied.

Everyone is of course focussed on the big questions which mostly are around hardware synergies(server, chips, storage) and Java. Since I don’t work at IBM I have no idea whats going on or if there is any truth to this. There some more interesting technical discussions to be had than those generally think they have an informed opinion.

IBM bought Transitive in 2008; Transitive has some innovative emulation software, called QuickTransit. It allows binaries created and compiled on one platform, to be run on another hardware platform without change or recompilation. There were some deficiencies, and you can read more into this in my terse summary blog post at the time of the acquisition announcement. Prior to acquisition QuickTransit supported a number of platforms including SPARC and PowerMac and had been licensed by a number of companies, including IBM.

I assume IBM is in the midst of their classic “blue rinse” process and this explains the almost complete elimination of the Transitive web site(1), and it’s nothing more sinister than they are getting ready to re-launch under the IBM branding umbrella of POwerVM or some such.

Now, one could speculate that by acquiring SUN, IBM would achieve three things that would enhance their PowerVM stratgey and build on their Transitive acquisition. First, they could reduce the platforms supported by QuickTransit and over time, not renegotiate their licensing agreements with 3rd parties. This would give IBM “leverage” in offering binary emulation for the architectures previsouly supported, on say, only the Power and Mainframe processor ranges.

Also, by further enhancing QuickTransit, and driving it into the IBM microcode/firmware layer, thus making it more reliable, providing higher performance by reducing duplicate instruction handling, they could effectively eliminate future SPARC based hardware utilising the UNIX based Power hardware, PowerVM virtualization. This would also have the effect taking this level of emulation mainstream and negating much of the transient(pun intended) nature typically associated with this sort of technology.

Finally, by acquiring SUN, IBM would eliminate any IP barriers that might occur due to the nature of the implementation of the SPARC instruction set.

That’s not to say that there are not any problems to overcome. First, as it currently stands the emulation tends to map calls from one OS into another, rather than operating at a pure architecture level. Pushing some of the emulation down into the firmware/microcode layer wouldn’t help emulation of CALL SOLARIS API with X, Y, even if it would emulate the machine architecture instructions that execute to do this. So, is IBM really committed to becoming a first class SOLARIS provider? I don’t see any proof of this since the earlier announcement. Solaris on Power is pretty non-existentThe alternative is that IBM is to use Transitive technology to map these calls into AIX, which is much more likely.

In economic downturns, big, cash rich companies are kings. Looking back over the last 150 years there are plenty of examples of big buying competitors and emerging from the downturn even more powerful. Ultimately I believe that the proprietary chip business is dead, it’s just a question of how long it takes for it to die and if regulators feel that by allowing mergers and acquisitions in this space is good or bad for the economy and the economic recovery.

So, there’s a thought. As I said, I don’t work at IBM.

(1) It is mildly ammusing to see that one of the few pages left extoles the virtues of the Transitive technology by one Mendel Rosenblum, formerly Chief Scientist and co-founder of VMWare.

Moo cards II

Moo cards II - The Next GenerationWhen I first created “business” moo cards, it created quite a bit of a stir. So I figured I’d post the moo cards II the next generation design. Unfortunately I didn’t get organised early enough to get them for this weekends AustinBarCampIV, so I’ll be using the standard Dell ones if needed.

I actually found a useful feature of PowerPoint 2007. If you import the image(s). and the text on top, then select all the elements, you can export as a single file, rather than a ppt file or doing a screen copy and then saving with another program. Go ahead, make your own ūüėČ

Short DNS and brand ownership

I cycle home Wednesday evenings and back in on Thursday morning, it’s a 22-mile drag from Round Rock to Down Town Austin, with some quiet bits, some busy bits and some dangerous bits. While spinning up North Lamar heading south ¬†towards 183, I was thinking about the rise of web URL shortnening websites such as, which was the first I was aware of that offered a free service to take a long url such as this blog entry¬† and turn it into¬†

The main reason these became really popular was becuase some systems, such as Lotus Notes used to produce bizzare, very, very long URL’s for pages in Notes databases. It was easier to remember¬† than it would be to remember the page name, try it… Now, people these days know these services for where every character counts, but thats not how or why they started.

There are a bunch of these services,,,, etc. I tend to use snurl as it allows you to save specific names, I’m sure other shortners do too. What I was thinking about last night was the ownership, rights etc. to shortened URLs.

When my son wanted some cards from¬†to help him promote his DJ work, I created them for him, but his myspace URL didn’t easily fit and flow, and what if later he wanted to create a website, he’d have to get new cards.

Answer, use snurl. So Oli and his alter ego Kaewan are now РIt currently points to his myspace profile, but I can change it whenever I want. 

So these services have become, in some way, analgous to Domain Registrars. Sure a short URL isn’t a domain, but effectively it’s the same as one, except you don’t own it, and you didn’t have to pay for it. For fun I created¬†– It actually points to Redmonks home page. But it could easily point elsewhere. And there’s the rub. With a traditional Name regsitrar there is an established right of review and appeal if you believe that someone has registered a domain that impinges on your brand and trademarks.

Not long after I created this blog, original DNS _ I got a “cease and desist” call from IBM legal pointing out that this wasn’t allowed and I should stop using it and not re-register the domain when it expired. SO where does point to? Well not IBM and is was nothing to do with me.

Use cases for management/consoles

I think I’ve got a pretty good idea how people use consoles and do management for large centralised servers either UNIX or Mainframe based. What I’m quickly learning is that while I can speculate on how organisations would do management and use consoles for x86 servers, there doesn’t seem to be a concensus, or many clear use cases.

As you’ll see in the coming weeks, Dell have worked with partners to come up with some pretty compelling technologies in the management space, and especially in consoles. I can’t claim to have had anything to do with those. However, we are now on the road to make some pretty important decisions on where we go next, what technologies we use, especially in standards, and how we tie a number of the existing threads and product offerings together.

I worked on a similar decision while at IBM, it turned into a pretty vigorous and fractious debate, but unless things have changed since December, they’ll be implementing the broad outline as part of their Power 7 Server rollout.

Now, I could just get Dell lined up to do the same thing. Only I don’t think that would be right for Dell customers, and specifically around x86 rack and row management, and even probably down at the Small business level, although perversly, the proposal for IBM Power would have a lot on interest for SMB customers, but for a whole different set of reasons.

First thing this morning I got invited to listen to AG Lafley, the P&G CEO who is also a member of the Dell board of Directors. He made some interesting observations about being customer driven, it was a refreshing reminder.

So, rather than develop some “best effort” use cases for server management internally, I’d like your help. Would you be willing to send me a chart or diagram that shows how you manage your servers and how you use consoles? I’d like to know how many servers per consolve, connectivity between console and server(s), speed of connection, location of any firewalls etc. How many people need access to the console and so on. Mostly initially though I’m looking for some schematics that show the console, the servers, connectivity, placement of firewalls, secure zones etc.

Feel free to leave a comment here, I’ll email you directly or you can send any questions or diagrams to mark_cathcart at dell dot com .

About & Contact

I'm Mark Cathcart, formally a Senior Distinguished Engineer, in Dells Software Group; before that Director of Systems Engineering in the Enterprise Solutions Group at Dell. Prior to that, I was IBM Distinguished Engineer and member of the IBM Academy of Technology. I am a Fellow of the British Computer Society ( I'm an information technology optimist.

I was a member of the Linux Foundation Core Infrastructure Initiative Steering committee. Read more about it here.

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