Column: Yet Even More IA-64 Troop Movement

Back in May, Network World Canada told you about how the emerging market for Intel Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co.'s 64-bit IA-64 chip (code-named Merced) was dividing itself into four Unix camps -- the leaders of which were Santa Cruz Operation (SCO), Sun Microsystems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Digital Equipment Corp.

It now appears that another player is entering the Merced market to become a co-leader of one of the aforementioned camps.

IBM Corp. announced it is partnering with SCO, along with Intel and Sequent Computer Systems, to develop a new version of Unix for Intel's IA-64 processor, which is expected to ship in mid-2000. Prior to Merced's release, IBM and SCO plan to cross-license technology from their respective AIX and UnixWare operating systems for inclusion in future versions of those OSes.

But the end goal of IBM and SCO's initiative (dubbed Project Monterey) is to create a single Unix platform for software vendors to port to, for both 32- and 64-bit Unix systems on Intel and IBM Power microprocessors.

The ironic thing about this is that was essentially the goal of the original "Gemini" operating system alliance between SCO and then-partner HP -- except in that case, the two vendors were looking to create a merged Unix platform that could run on both Intel and HP's PA-RISC architectures.

But 18 months ago, HP started to back away from its commitment with SCO to co-develop a "unified" 64-bit Unix. As a result, SCO -- the lead player in the Unix-on-Intel desktop market -- began fostering relationships with Unisys, Compaq, ICL and Data General, in order to beef up the enterprise server side of its marketing story.

However, as a result of Compaq's acquisition of Digital earlier this year, SCO has lost Compaq as a server partner to the Digital Unix camp. In turn, through its new alliance with IBM, SCO has gained a new partner in Sequent -- previously one of the Digital supporters.

For months, industry watchers have been waiting patiently for IBM to announce its plans for a 64-bit Unix that will run on the IA-64 chip. Many speculated about whether IBM would join one of the existing Unix camps or simply add another to the landscape.

With its traditional enterprise rivals HP, Sun and Digital as leaders of three of the Unix-on-Merced groups, IBM wasn't likely to sign up with any of those. So that left SCO. The presence of Compaq, up until recently, in SCO's camp may have initially been a deterrent.

Whatever the reason for IBM choosing now to join forces with SCO, most industry analysts say the partnership is well-timed and will result in the pre-eminent 64-bit Unix for the IA-64 platform.

Now, if only SCO's partnership with IBM can last long enough for IA-64 to ship.

(Linda Stuart is editor of Network World Canada in Toronto.)