Microsoft snubs IBM's Power offer

Industry hype surrounding Microsoft's decision to go with IBM's Power processors over Intel for its next generation Xbox, won't translate into Windows for Power servers in the near future, despite a pledge by IBM to support the operating system.

IBM's iSeries chief scientist Dr Frank Soltis said a port to the Power architecture is a requirement for it to run natively on the iSeries and, as such, is entirely "up to Microsoft."

Soltis said the new Xbox 360 is an example of a Windows operating system running on the Power architecture, so it is possible for Windows servers to run on the iSeries.

To ensure Windows can compete in the most scalable enterprise environments, Microsoft will have to port it to Power because there's nowhere else for it to go, Soltis said, adding that Power is at least three years ahead of any other architecture in the industry.

iSeries users must rely on x86-based co-processors or adaptors to consolidate Windows workloads, but the need for these would be eliminated with a native Power port of the operating system.

During his keynote address at the iSeries strategic planning conference in Perth last week, Soltis spoke of Microsoft's desire to keep up with Sony in the game console market as the reason why it swapped Intel for Power in the latest Xbox.

"Why would you change the hardware when you have to make all these changes to the software?" Soltis asked. "The answer is actually one word. The word is Sony."

Soltis reminisced about the explosive growth in processing power by comparing the 1998 version of the biggest computer the world - the size of the auditorium he was speaking in - to today's Cell processor developed by IBM, Sony, and Toshiba.

"Today that exact same power is in a single Cell chip - it's unbelievable," he said. "that's the technology that is going to be used by Sony so Microsoft can see this as its competition and has to be able to match it. It said 'who am I going bet on - IBM or Intel?' Microsoft bet on IBM."

In addition to competitive reasons, Soltis' reasoning for Microsoft's big bet is that the world of the processor has changed to the point where "the way we used to do it doesn't work anymore" and getting more performance requires "innovative techniques."

"Microsoft is betting, in fact it's betting big time, that IBM is going to be so much more innovative than Intel that it is willing to totally change the hardware, rewrite all of the software, and move into a completely different direction than it's been going in the past," Soltis said. "That's a major, major change."

Despite all this, Microsoft is bluntly turning a blind eye to the platform, with Windows group program manager Clyde Rodriguez telling Computerworld: "No, this is not one of our supported platforms."

"Our Windows roadmap has long-targeted support for x86, x64, and Itanium," Rodriguez said when asked why Microsoft would choose to ignore a market opportunity. "As always we continue to evaluate new opportunities based on the needs of our customers, but have no plans to port to Power at this time."

Rodney Gedda attended the conference as a guest of IBM

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