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Stephen Shankland

Staff Writer, CNET

A start-up founded by a group of Hewlett-Packard alumni will showcase on Monday technology that will aim to ensure the confidentiality between a server and its PCs.

Englewood, Colo.-based Secure64 is working on software, called a “web edge engine” in one of its patent applications, that’s designed to accelerate Web sites, beef up privacy and security, and work on different sizes of servers.

Particularly, the software will take advantage of security features in Intel’s 64-bit server chip Itanium that existing operating systems don’t take advantage of, according to a press pitch. Patent applications filed on behalf of the company by its chief technology officer assert that its software could completely control a computer, the same job performed now by operating systems.

The focus on Itanium likely derives in part from Secure64’s management team. Chair Denny Georg served as a vice president and chief technology officer for various divisions at Hewlett-Packard, which co-designed Itanium with Intel. Meanwhile, Secure64 CTO Bill Worley retired as an HP fellow in 2002. At HP, he served as the technical director and principal architect of both the PA-RISC processor and PA-WideWord, the basis for Itanium, according to Secure64’s Web site.

What exactly is the Secure64 software? The company won’t divulge this information until Tuesday, but Worley has recently filed applications for something called a “custom execution environment.” The patent application states that the technology aims at curing some of the deficiencies in performance found in existing 64-bit operating systems.

Secure64 hopes to “provide maximum performance and eliminate security vulnerabilities,” according to one recent application. The patent says that the technology can completely control a computer or share control with another operating system.

“Secure64 web edge engines seek to offer the world’s best performance and the world’s best security. Secure64 web edge engines will scale seamlessly from appliances employing single or dual processors, to full Web servers employing hundreds of processors and concurrently executing customer applications and dynamic content generators,” one patent application states. “Advanced content acceleration and cryptographic security and privacy protections will be provided throughout the product line.”

Although security is a chief concern among CIOs, Itanium remains a tough sell. While the number of Itanium server shipments continues to grow, sales did not meet Intel’s expectations in 2004, and only a tiny fraction of the server market consists of Itanium-based systems.

“Another OS for Itanium? That will make a big difference in the market acceptance,” deadpanned analyst Nathan Brookwood of Insight 64. “I’m in a sardonic mood today.”

However, there is a market for dedicated devices such as protective firewall appliances or Java accelerators that speed tasks handled by other general-purpose servers. With that approach, customers need not know they’re using a new operating system, and the company developing the technology need not recruit the army of software partners, programmers and others required for a full-fledged OS.

In addition, Secure64’s software doesn’t run in a vacuum. The patent applications provide for situations in which the company’s software works in conjunction with a general-purpose operating system on the same hardware.