SGI is holding off on porting its own Unix operating system to Intel's Merced chip, preferring to use Linux.
"We have not closed the door finally on (Irix, SGI's version of Unix on Intel), but the current feeling from an applications standpoint is that Linux is the right answer," Hank Shiffman, strategy technologist at SGI, told PC Week. "Given the resources we have, we have to focus on just one (operating system) and that one is Linux."
SGI's strategy has reversed since April 1998, when CEO Rick Belluzzo outlined SGI's relationship with Intel. In a statement, the company said then: "By porting the Irix operating system to Intel's IA64 architecture debuting in the Merced processor, Silicon Graphics (since renamed SGI) will provide new choices for customers."
Analyst firm Gartner is predicting that the market will consolidate to two or three Unix operating systems over the next two years, focused on Intel's 64-bit chip architecture. Favourites have been HP-UX, Sun Solaris, and the IBM-led Monterey project, but Linux is becoming visible on the radar.
Consolidation has been driven by software vendors porting their products to fewer platforms. "The ISVs I am talking to, are thinking about doing two (ports) - NT and Linux," said Shiffman.
In the short term, however, Linux on Intel will not challenge Irix on MIPS. Linux is a 32-bit operating system and does not scale beyond four processors.
But SGI intends to help Linux have a 64-bit version in time for the launch of Intel's Merced chip next year and will contribute technology to enable the free OS to support multiprocessor CC-NUMA hardware.
SGI had earlier hinted that Irix could be made open source (see PC Week, 20 July).
SGI is also trying to define portable APIs, which will helpin-house developers to port customised applications from Irix to Linux. But the greatest problem will be binary incompatibility. MIPS is big-endian technology and Intel technology is little-endian.
No official statement has been made signalling the end of the road for MIPS or Irix. But SGI intends to introduce Intel's chip architecture to all its systems. Currently the MIPS roadmap continues through MIPS 12000, 14000 and 16000 processors.
SGI is expected to announce a four-way Intel Xeon server running Linux this week.
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