Startup promises better speed, security on Itanium

Startup promises better speed, security on Itanium

A startup founded by a group of ex-HP executives, including the chief architect behind Itanium, officially debuted on Monday and announced plans to ship software that promises to boost the speed and security of Web applications on Itanium servers.

Secure64 Software was founded in 2002 and currently employs 16 people. It bills itself as a 64-bit software development company "poised to dramatically improve the security and performance of network communications". Its software is being built specifically for Itanium processors.

The company was co-founded by Bill Worley, who was technical director and principal architect of PA-RISC and PA-Wide Word, which became Itanium, at HP. Worley, Secure64's vice-president and CTO, currently has three patents pending for Secure64's secure platform software.

Worley said there was no software that took full advantage of the Itanium architecture, which offered enhanced security capabilities with four privilege levels and compartmentalisation, for example. In addition, it could run as many as eight instructions per cycle, offering significant performance gains over other platforms.

Instead, most operating systems have gotten bulky because they are designed to be general-purpose and run on multiple platforms. Security is an issue with these operating systems because with their general-purpose nature they don't tap into hardware-level security available on chips such as Itanium.

Secure64 aimed to leverage the unique speed and security features in the Itanium architecture that were not employed by current operating systems such as Windows and Linux, Worley said.

For example, today's operating systems typically used two security levels on the hardware platforms they run on, Worley said. Secure64's software would use all four of Itanium's security levels.

As for performance, Secure64 executives say Pentium-architecture chips run just one instruction per cycle, and RISC-based processors max out at three instructions per cycle, while Itanium's Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing design can run eight instructions per cycle.

Secure64's aim is to reduce complexity in an operating environment by focusing strictly on Itanium's unique features, said Peter Cranstone, co-founder and CEO of Secure64 and a co-developer of data compression technology mod_gzip for Apache.

"What we're looking to do is introduce a simpler architecture environment that mitigates risk when it comes to security, but also provides a significant performance upside," he said.

While Cranstone would not provide specifics about the company's product, he did say it could be used to run hardware appliances such as firewalls and boost the performance of SSL transactions and multimedia delivery.

Analysts said Secure64 had a challenging task ahead of it. One reason is that the Itanium marketplace had been slow to take off.

"Itaniums running their application have to demonstrate not only performance but also price/performance. And they will still be pitching their product on a platform with very small market share compared to 64-bit x86," Illuminata analyst, Gordon Haff, said.

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