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The move from Sparc to x86 is nothing new. The trend in moving away from Sparc-based systems and onto commodity boxes has been happening for years, said Stephen Josselyn, enterprise research director at Framingham, Mass.-based research firm IDC.
"Sun has a sense of this [trend], having introduced x86 products themselves," Josselyn said. "They are riding [the x86] wave. A Unix-to-Linux transition is easiest compared to, say, Windows, where the apps would have to be entirely rewritten."
IDC doesn't have exact numbers regarding movement from platform to platform, but according to Josselyn, "There is always movement between platforms. There has been that trend over time."Attracting defectors
Charles King, an analyst at Hayward, Calif.-based research firm Pund-IT Inc., said Sun's Sparc customer base may have hundreds of older Sparc rack-mount servers that, compared with the x86 servers available today, are a bit slow. "Why run an old Sparc when you can do the same work on an x86?" King said. "The x86s are becoming more attractive now, especially with virtualization."
Los Gatos, Calif.-based Transitive also offers software that moves Sparc Solaris to x86 Solaris or to Linux Itanium and other platforms.
Hewlett-Packard Co. has made efforts to attract Sparc defectors and, earlier this year, formed a partnership with Transitive to do so. HP also creates incentives for Sparc users who cross over to ProLiant, BladeSystem Integrity and HP StorageWorks platforms with automated tools, system trade-ins, financial incentives, migration assistance and integrated support capabilities.
"We want to make it as easy as possible for users to switch to x86," said Jeff Carlat, HP's director of industry-standard servers software. "There is an aging Sparc customer market out there who can use this and easily move to a lower-cost platform and see a performance increase of two to four times [that] with the new x86 servers that have dual and quad-core processors. It is like moving from an old car to a new Ferrari."
Some customers do not have the skill set to port applications off a Sparc box or are unwilling to do so given time or cost constraints, said Jim Lee, competitive product manager at HP. And that's where Transitive comes in.
"Customers are leaning toward standardization, and their Sparc legacy servers have lots of custom applications. In some cases, the source codes are lost, or the ISV [independent software vendor] is out of business, so they wouldn't be able to re-write apps if they could," Lee said.
One such customer is London-based King's College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, which used QuickTransit to move off Solaris/Sparc onto Linux/x86 in July.
The hospital had two "ancient" Sparc Solaris 2.6 boxes running patient data. Increasing user demands and a 100% CPU load was bogging down the two 166 MHz Sparc systems, said Gary McAllister, integration technical lead at King's College Hospital.
The hospital migrated its one critical application off two Sparc boxes and onto one HP ProLiant dual-core 64-bit Intel Xeon-based server. With QuickTransit, the migration process took three days rather than the months it might have taken to port all the application codes, McAllister said. The HP server now runs the legacy application smoothly, along with SUSE Linux Enterprise Server and two virtual machines using VMware.
"We were running our most important app on ancient boxes, and the improvement is amazing," said McAllister. "The increase in speed and performance has to be 200%."How QuickTransit works
Essentially, QuickTransit software takes an application that is running and issuing instructions and converts that information into instructions for a different system by way of three components: a dynamic binary translator, an operating system call mapper, and its integration Fuse.
The dynamic binary translator itself consists of three components. One is a decoder that reads blocks of instructions from the foreign application and decodes them into an intermediate representation, which allows QuickTransit to understand the code. Next, an optimizing kernel reads the intermediate representation and optimizes the code, which is stored in cache. Finally, the code generator outputs code to the target processor.
With the operating system mapping component, QuickTransit calls between any two Unix- or Linux-like operating systems. Where an equivalent operating system call doesn't exist in the target environment, QuickTransit maps to similar calls per the customer's guidance. QuickTransit also monitors certain system calls -- thread scheduling and memory mapping calls, for example -- so it can reproduce the program it executes.
When a foreign application starts, the operating system sees that the application needs translation and automatically starts QuickTransit with the Integration Fuse component.
The end result is that applications running on new hardware without the costs and delays of porting projects and no disruption to users, according to Transitive.
Transitive QuickTransit and its dynamic binary translation technology appears to be unique in the market. Several years ago, the now-defunct Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC) created translation technology called FX32 to help users move applications from VAX to Alpha hardware.
"In general, the end game is still to get native versions of applications when they're available," said Illuminata Inc. analyst Gordon Haff."However, for perhaps the first time, we're now at the point where binary translation provides a completely practical bridge for all but the most performance-intensive apps until such native applications can be ported." Performance and cost
According to Ian Robinson, vice president of marketing at Transitive, performance overhead for QuickTransit is similar to that for virtualization. "We run at about 80%, so typically there is a 20% performance hit using Transitive."
The software's advantage is that users looking to invest in hardware upgrades don't have to spend excessive amounts of money and time moving apps onto a new server, especially in an environment when server technology upgrades are made every few years, Robinson said.
Transitive charges $875 per processor socket, and a typical two-socket starting price is $1,750.
Sun declined to comment for this article, but Transitive's Robinson said that Sun is supportive of QuickTransit for Sparc-to-x86 migrations because Sun sells these servers as well.
"Sun gets to keep the customers moving off of Sparc onto their own x86 servers, so they don't necessarily lose anything in those cases," Robinson said.
Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail Bridget Botelho, News Writer.
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