Transitive virtual processing magic

Transitive virtual processing magic

Summary: What would it be like if it was possible to take an executable image that was built for one operating system and processor family, wave a software wand over that software and then simply run it on another platform? Wouldn't that make life for an organization's IT staff quite a bit easier?

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What would it be like if it was possible to take an executable image that was built for one operating system and processor family, wave a software wand over that software and then simply run it on another platform? Wouldn't that make life for an organization's IT staff quite a bit easier? Wouldn't that be a blessing for a consumer who is simply moving from an older PC to a newer one? Believe it or not, something of this nature has been done several times.

A while back, I had a very informative chat with Ian Robinson, VP of Marketing for Transitive. I've spoken with the company on several occasions (see my post Transitive QuickTransit - Hardware Virtualization that Takes the Pain Out of Migrations.) Ian's goal for this conversation was to bring me up to date on what transitive is doing now.

Spelunking in the caverns of computer history

Before we got into the deep magic Transitive is performing today, we had a lively discussion of how similar technology has been used in the past. Here are some examples that came up during the discussion:

  • Digital Equipment Corporation developed two "migration tools" that allowed VAX/OpenVMS code to be processed and then run on Alpha/OpenVMS and VAX/Ultrix-32 code to be processed and then run on Alpha/OSF/1 without any recoding of the application involved.
  • IBM took a different approach but allowed OS/400 applications to be migrated from 16-bit processors to today's 64-bit processors without recoding the applications
  • Transitive helped customers of Apple Computers move applicaitons that were running on their PowerPC driven MacIntosh systems to their new Intel driven systems.

It was fun to wander through the caverns of computer history.

Possibilities for the future

There are many other ways this technology could be useful as organizations march to adopt the next generation datacenter (see my post What would a next generation datacenter look like?). One of the requirements of the next generation datacenter is having the ability to easily migrate workloads from many established platforms (operating systems plus their underlying processor architectures) to a unified hardware architecture so that these workloads can be orchestrated to maximize the use of the underlying physical systems.

Dreaming the future

Although Ian didn't mention any of these things, I could easily imagine Transative helping system suppliers move any UNIX workload to any other UNIX varient, any Linux workload to any other Linux distribution, etc. I'm pretty sure that the company has thought about these things. There's no way for me to learn of these, of course, unless I put on a ninja outfit and slipped into the company's headquarters.

If you're a computer archeologist like me, you may want to learn more about the history of this idea and how Transitive it taking this concept forward.

Topics: Processors, CXO, Data Centers, Hardware, Storage

About

Daniel Kusnetzky, a reformed software engineer and product manager, founded Kusnetzky Group LLC in 2006. He's literally written the book on virtualization and often comments on cloud computing, mobility and systems software. In his spare time, he's also the managing partner of Lux Sonus LLC, an investment firm.

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4 comments
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  • Missed a couple

    Right after the launch of Windows NT, Digital Equipment also came out with a program that would not only translate, but would also optimize and store that translated code on-the-fly, for 32-bit x86 apps to run on the Alpha platform. The award-winning program was called FX!32, and it provided performance that in a few cases actually bested contemporary x86 systems.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FX!32
    dclhacker
    • 2nd one...

      Oops, sorry, got so wrapped up in FX!32 I forgot to mention the second translator! Microsoft and Digital worked together on a 16 bit Windows emulator for NT, also. This allowed many card drivers to be recognized at a BIOS-level, as well as 16 bit apps to run within NT on the Alpha platform. This program only translated code on the fly -- it did not store it nor optimize it like FX!32.
      dclhacker
    • I bet we can think of others

      Thanks for putting a name to the DEC technology. I used to know that when I was at DEC lifetimes ago.

      I bet that if we all think about it, we can come up with one or two more.

      Dan K
      dkusnetzky
  • RE: Transitive virtual processing magic

    Now that VMS is on Itanium, there's a binary translator that will take Alpha executables and run them without change on Itanium. It'll even translate VAX executables that were translated to Alpha.

    Instead of DECmigrate, HP (who owns VMS now) gave it some long, boring, name. We in the community call it AEST. The VAX-to-Alpha one is called VEST.

    Of course, this only works if there's no middleware dependency. But there is are VAX and Alpha emulators called CHARON-VAX and CHARON-AXP:

    http://www.stanq.com/charon-vax.html

    [Shameless Plug Alert(tm) I am a CHARON reseller.]
    squayle