The Gelato Federation, Hewlett-Packard (Canada) Ltd.’s new open source community initiative, is designed to advance computing solutions via Intel Itanium technology, the company announced last month.

“We’ve got a vested interest in both areas…Linux in itself has a real appeal to academic organizations. I believe that there’s a cultural fit with the open systems development labs, and as well it’s very easy to recompile the code for different hardware architectures – it’s a highly portable format,” said Lorne Weiner, marketing manager for enterprise server solutions at Mississauga, Ont.-based HP Canada.

Known simply as Gelato, Weiner said the global consortium will help researchers and IT staff working on the Itanium Linux platform advance technology-related research in the areas of government, industry and life sciences.

Weiner added Gelato will focus on scalable Linux applications optimized for IA-64 technology, from single-node processors to Linux clusters to grid computing.

Co-founded by HP and several other worldwide research institutions, Gelato membership is open to all academic, government and corporate groups, the company said. Current members include the BioInformatics Institute (Singapore), University of South Wales (Australia), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Ontario’s University of Waterloo.

Larry Karnis, president of Brampton, Ont.-based Application Enhancements Inc., said this is an excellent idea that will benefit not only HP, but the Linux community and users as well.

“Linux is a commodity operating system based on price, support and everything, so what HP is doing is bringing a commodity operating system to a 64-bit architecture,” he said. “If the Gelato folks are successful in what they are doing, that in some future time period, commodity-based 64-bit computing, based on high-volume, high-performance 64-bit processors, may be as ubiquitous as 32-bit computing is today.”

The Gelato Web Portal will provide the research community with software downloads, including new solutions developed by Gelato member institutions and by other contributors from the greater open source community, HP Canada said.

Each group will also offer IT infrastructure, human resources and financial aid in support of Gelato, the company said, adding that group representatives bring expertise in compilers and languages, security and Linux kernel performance capabilities.

HP’s participation in Gelato is strictly “altruistic,” Weiner said, noting that HP has a long history with open systems development labs. “We actually maintain the Itanium kernel for the open system community…the whole basis of the Linux community means that everyone can have access to this code, make improvements, and they are compelled to make those improvements available to the rest of the community,” Weiner said.

The amazing thing about HP’s initiative is that it’s a commitment to 100 per cent open-source software, said Dr. Peter Buhr from the University of Waterloo’s computer science department.

HP Canada will provide funding that will be matched by the university, Buhr said, and will go toward the hiring of additional research assistants. He added the university will be working on “under-the-surface” Linux applications designed to advance research.

While not particularly “sexy,” Buhr said modular research conducted by the University of Waterloo will make the Itanium Linux platform more robust and accessible to researchers.

Karnis said this announcement shows HP is looking forward into a burgeoning market.

“The thing that struck me the most, if you looked at units shipped for Itanium-based servers in 2001, for most manufacturers, the numbers are appallingly awful,” he said. “Part of the reason for that is that a computer is useless to you without an operating system. I don’t believe Microsoft has support for Itanium so traditional Windows systems are not going to happen, I don’t think it is even on Novell’s radar screen. I do know there is active work in the Linux community to get it up and running, so unless Microsoft starts delivering software, Intel’s only hope with Itanium is to court the Unix community and any vendors that get behind that is just going to help it.”

With files from Julie Clow