Is Microsoft Secretly Planning for a 'Reborn Mainframe' Scenario?

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2008-03-13 Print this article Print

Microsoft's recent acquisition of Calista Technologies and Kidaro could suggest this, according to analyst Rob Helm.

Is Microsoft secretly preparing for a new computing scenario where a reborn mainframe emerges that supports multi-user computing on centralized desktops?

Directions on Microsoft analyst Rob Helm believes so, pointing out that two of Microsoft's most recent acquisitions-Calista Technologies and Kidaro-have been companies whose technologies could facilitate multi-user computing on centralized desktops.

Helm was responding to a Reuters report published March 13 quoting Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer, Craig Mundie, as saying that he believes parallel computing is the next big thing in technology.

But individual parallel applications might be the wrong way to exploit parallel processors, Helm said, noting that a better way to exploit parallelism could be to "go back to the future," essentially sharing computers among multiple users.

"A reborn mainframe could spell the end of the PC market, so Microsoft and Intel aren't going to talk about it out loud, but I think Microsoft, at least, is quietly preparing for the possibility," Helm told eWeek.

Online services, another big future growth area for Microsoft and one of the reasons behind its drive to buy Yahoo, are also inherently multi-user systems. Such services will be able to exploit continued improvements in parallel computing. "Google, of course, has built its whole business on that observation," helm said.

Mundie is not alone in this assesment, with Hewlett-Packard and Cisco Systems also saying that parallel processing would be the big driver for the data center.

A new programming language would be required for this new parallel computing scenario, and could affect how almost every piece of software was written. "This will be hard," said Mundie, who worked on parallel computing as the head of supercomputer company Alliant Computer Systems before joining Microsoft. "This challenge looms large over the next 5 to 10 years," he told Reuters.

But Helm says that while exploiting parallelism does require a fundamental shift for programmers, he does not believe that the tools and languages they are given today are up to the task.

"However, new tools and languages might not be sufficient either. For years, researchers have been experimenting with new programming technology to support parallel computing in scientific labs, but very little of it has made the jump to the mainstream," he told eWeek.

Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at


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