MANHASSET, N.Y. As a key designer of the Itanium and other processors before that, Bill Worley has been frustrated by the fact that too much performance power has been soaked up by operating systems.
For the Itanium, his solution was to do away with operating systems and move directly to applications, with what he calls an "extensible environment." In fact, Worley and a group of prominent Silicon Valley executives have formed a company, Secure64, to carry out Worley's vision.
"The Itanium chip and architecture can perform much more," he said in an interview, as Secure64 was officially launched this week. "We're not out to replace general operating systems exactly. We want to develop a strategy that will co-exist with operating systems."
Worley and Secure64 plan to take advantage of the Itanium's inherent security advantages and high-performance features. He and his colleagues at the start-up believe their unique software approach will enable them to wring out the security and performance characteristics of the Itanium that are lost in overhead.
Worley was the technical director and principal architect of Hewlett-Packard's PA-RISC and PA-Wide Word (which led to the Itanium architectures). Secure64 CEO Peter Cranstone also has a design background: he was codeveloper of mod_gzip for Apache, which played a key data-compression role in the Internet.
"We faced a simple problem from the start," said Cranstone. "How can we boost performance without compromising on the security side?" The problem led to the extensible environment approach.
"Now," explained Cranstone, "when we boot the system, it's talking directly to us. There's no OS [involved]." The main thrust of the software design is to keep the operating system from soaking up Itanium performance. By focusing on developing software at the chip level, the Secure64 team believes it can boost performance. If Secure64 can execute its business plan successfully, it could give a badly needed boost to the Itanium. The processor while having superior performance specifications hasn't lived up to most sales expectations.
The company has been talking with several potential customers and expects to deliver Alpha-site software in the current quarter, with Beta installations scheduled to take place in the second quarter. "There's no substitute for the customer," said Cranstone. "We want to show the performance first, show how fast the box is. Then we'll show security."
Essentially, Secure64 plans to exploit the Itanium's parallel-processing potential with its capability of supporting 8 instructions per cycle, as well as to use the processor's built-in security features. The company has three core patents. Cranstone said HP is supporting its effort.
The executive lineup at Secure64 also includes chairman Denny George, president Steve Goodbarn, vice president of sales and marketing Domenic Gianfrancesco, and vice president Joe Gersch.