IA-64 Linux From Red Hat

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IA-64 Linux From Red Hat
R. Krause - June 15, 2000

Event Summary

In May Red Hat, Inc. announced the availability of an early release of the Red Hat source code for the forthcoming Intel Itanium processor platform targeting high-end servers and workstations. This distribution enables the development of IA-64 software for the most intensive computing environments, from high performance design automation to enterprise level databases. A free download version of the code can be obtained from Red Hat's web site: ftp://ftp.redhat.com/pub/redhat/ia64.

"Red Hat's release of pre-production tools and software represents an important milestone in the development of the IA-64 Linux platform," said Michael Pope, Intel's Director of e-Business Solutions Marketing. "This release will enable the open source Linux community to accelerate their development of advanced server and workstation applications for Itanium processor based systems.''

Intel recently announced the availability online of the Itanium Processer Microarchitecture Reference, a guide for software developers that details the functional behavior of Intel's Itanium microprocessor. This guide, together with the Red Hat code will enable developers to create programs that will be Red Hat/IA-64 ready before the production release of the Itanium microprocessor.

"Commercial developers know that as the principle source of the GNU development tools for both IA-32 and IA-64 Linux (as well as for many proprietary operating systems), Red Hat is positioned to help developers port and optimize their applications for IA-64 Linux," said Michael Tiemann, CTO, Red Hat, Inc. "We believe this will be especially valuable to developers who want to extend their Linux-based offerings into high-end, 64-bit enterprise and technical computing markets."

This pre-production version will include the Red Hat/Cygnus compiler and tool kit. It is based on the tools and kernel developed by the IA-64 Linux Project, formerly known as the Trillian project, a group of companies that include Red Hat, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Caldera, CERN, SuSE, SGI, TurboLinux and VA Linux. The full release of Red Hat's offering will coincide with the IA-64 hardware availability from Intel.

Market Impact

Although Microsoft's 64-bit version of NT will probably be customer-ready before Red Hat's version, we expect the "lag time" on the Red Hat version to be less than a year - probably nine months. The key will be how many 64-bit applications will be available for Red Hat on Itanium. We suspect that Windows has a larger lead in that arena, although we do not expect that Redmond has a ton of apps "ready to roll" whenever 64-bit Windows finally ships.

Red Hat already has 64-bit experience on Compaq's Alpha processor, and Microsoft very publicly killed the Alpha-based version of 64-bit Windows (Ref. TEC News Analysis), so the edge in technology familiarity goes to Red Hat in this case, but not by much. It would certainly be nice for Red Hat if they could get some of the existing Alpha applications easily re-compiled for Itanium, or at least quickly/easily rewritten, but we expect that falls into the "wouldn't it be nice" category.

The battle at this point is for mindshare: Itanium's performance is not expected to be in the kick-the-doors-down range, the performance version (McKinley, or whatever they're calling it these days) is not due out until 2001. However, since applications often drive OS acceptance, it behooves both Red Hat and Microsoft to have ISVs (Independent Software Vendors) generating as many as possible. Red Hat should consider leveraging Compaq's/Digital's software partners - although Compaq is clearly a friend of Microsoft.

Within the Linux market, Red Hat's initiative will help it consolidate its hold on market share leadership. Caldera, SuSE, Corel, and TurboLinux will need to consider responding in kind, if for no other reason than Itanium support will become a "check box" when customers consider server OSes.

The impact of this announcement on Advanced Micro Devices' forthcoming 64-bit processor, code named Sledgehammer, is presently unclear. AMD says Sledgehammer will have full x86 32-bit and 64-bit compatibility (unlike Itanium), so the need to spend a lot of effort to get code rewritten is not as great. However, we would be more reassured if Red Hat made a similar announcement for Sledgehammer.

User Recommendations

There will be no immediate effect on users, except in the cases where they want to develop their own 64-bit, Linux-based, Itanium-powered applications. We expect that percentage is currently small, and not likely to grow significantly. (Few companies still expend internal resources trying to build their own software apps from scratch.)

In the longer term, users will have more alternatives for 64-bit environments. More alternatives (within reason) generally provides more benefits to the customers. Although Wintel will certainly be a presence, the Lintel option will probably garner significant share, thereby providing a more competitive playing field for customer dollars.

From a technical standpoint, it is too early to recommend which OS to use for which situation(s). Outside of Windows still ruling the desktop (and Linux, by implication, not being a major presence there), the server market is too diverse for a "one OS fits all" pronouncement.

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