IBM buys into cross-platform virtualisation

The bonds that have in the past shackled software to specific kinds of a specific make of hardware are today fast disintegrating – thanks to virtualisation technology.

Transitive, a company spun-out from a research project at the University of Manchester in the 1990s, has forged its own unique approach to ‘decoupling’ software systems from hardware. Transitive’s software allows applications compiled for execution on one microprocessor design to execute on another without any changes to application code itself.

Transitive first stepped into the limelight after it provided the all-important software that Apple used to migrate from its codebase and its users from IBM’s PowerPC chips to Intel’s x86 processors in the early part of this decade. The Apple Rosetta layer allowed PowerPC apps to run under emulation in Intel.

But in November 2006, Transitive’s virtualisation technology became the must-have holiday season item for IBM. The reasoning behind IBM’s decision revolved around enterprise IT: in the data centre, IBM argues, Transitive’s technology can help companies to virtualise heterogeneous IT environments without having to manage multiple virtualisation toolkits, and, it may help IBM customers switch old mainframe systems to newer (more profitable) hardware.

But there is another possibility: it would also allow IBM to purchase its troubled competitor Sun Microsystems and provide a smooth transition path for Sun customers from SPARC platforms to the IBM Power architecture. Terms of the deal were kept private.

Global consolidation

Elsewhere in the mergers market, the developing trend of Indian IT companies acquiring vertical specialists in the West continued with Polaris Software Lab’s purchase of US insurance applications vendor SEEC.

Chennai-based Polaris Software Lab is a top 20 Indian software and services company, specialising in applications and services for the financial services industry. As well as bespoke development projects, it offers the Intellect platform, a core suite of insurance and banking packages. Founded to service the requirements of Citigroup, Polaris has built up a broad customer base that includes UBS, Lloyds TSB, Shinsei Bank and Deutsche Leasing. Annual revenues for fiscal 2008 were around $300 million, and head count stands at 10,500.

The acquisition of SEEC, whose customers include such US insurers as the North Carolina Farm Bureau Insurance and the Ohio Casualty Group, will bring its insurance division closer to the US domestic market.

But although it is headquartered in the US, SEEC already has a strong Indian presence. It has a 250-man development centre in Hyderabad, the majority of its directors are Indian and it counts Indian IT giants Infosys and Wipro (as well as IBM) among its key implementation partners.
On paper, the SEEC acquisition (the financial terms of which were not disclosed) can be seen as evidence of Indian expansion abroad. But the two countries’ software industries are by now so intertwined that this is more truthfully described as simply an insurance software consolidation play.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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