IBM Announces New IA-64 Unix Initiative

In what is certainly not the first or the last time Unix vendors have launched such an initiative, IBM announced plans to develop a single, high-volume, enterprise-class Unix operating system to span multiple platforms. This time the processor architectures in question are Intel’s IA-32 and IA-64 and IBM’s PowerPC.

IBM was previously the only major vendor not to announce plans to port its Unix operating system to Intel's IA-64 -- also known as "Merced."

IBM will leverage existing AIX technologies and receive support from Intel, SCO and Sequent as it attempts to develop a Unix operating system – code-named "Monterey" -- for Intel’s forthcoming, albeit much delayed, IA-64 processor. Key technologies from SCO’s UnixWare 7 and Sequent’s PTX operating systems will complement this effort.

Despite IBM’s involvement with SCO’s UnixWare – the Unix-on-Intel market share leader, Big Blue is not discontinuing its AIX development efforts.

"In addition to our continuing investments in AIX on PowerPC, we will develop a Unix for Intel’s IA-64," says Bob Stephenson, senior VP at IBM’s Server Group. "This Unix operating system will be developed using IBM’s AIX enterprise capabilities complimented with technology from SCO and Sequent."

Stephenson says that IBM will transfer AIX’s enterprise technology to SCO in an effort to expand the market for Unix on IA-32. SCO’s UnixWare is the Unix-on-Intel market share leader.

"The result will be a Unix that runs on IA-32, IA-64 and IBM’s POWER architecture for computers ranging in size from desktops to supercomputers," Stephenson explains.

Bucking the history of the fractious Unix market, IBM hopes that other vendors will join the initiative. "We will actively seek support from other OEMs," Stephenson says. "The more the merrier."

While Unix vendors have long sought a champion to keep the NT wolf at bay, this initiative is different in that it recognizes that the path for NT in the data center is through Unix. "This Unix will be NT friendly," says Casey Powell, chairman and CEO of Sequent.

"IBM is totally committed to making this alliance a success," Stephenson says. So much so in fact, IBM created a separate Unix Brand organization within IBM’s Server Group.

Additionally, IBM’s IA-64 Unix initiative was significantly bolstered by VP and General Manager of Intel’s enterprise server group John Miner’s pledge to "work with IBM and SCO to make this the first Unix port for all computer manufacturers and software developers."

IBM and Intel also created an ISV fund with "tens of millions of dollars" in it to help software vendors deliver middleware tools and application programs for Monterey.

One of the obvious questions surrounding this initiative is the coexistence of big endian (AIX) and little endian (Intel IA-64) on a single Unix platform.

"About half the Unix servers in the world are little endian, half are big endian," says Doug Michels, CEO of SCO "The industry has already dealt with the nuances and issues inherent in that." IBM’s Stephenson agrees. "[Big endian vs. little endian] gets blown out of perspective, but at the same time you have to be realistic – they are different," he says. "But we have the tools and capabilities to deal with it."

IBM says Monterey could be available in 18 months; roughly when Intel plans to deliver Merced.