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Itanium stumbles on software code

Cliff Saran

Intel’s latest 64-bit systems will give little or no advantage over 32-bit systems running application server software based on code from Java or Microsoft.

 

Users have been advised that running the latest 64-bit Itanium II systems as application servers may not offer a sufficient performance boost to justify the cost over existing 32-bit Xeon hardware.

 

Published Java application server benchmarks show two-processor Itanium II-based systems are inferior in cost and performance compared with four-processor Xeon systems.

 

Microsoft has also admitted its rival 64-bit .net architecture is still in the early stages of development.

 

Both .net and Java use just-in-time technology, which will need to be redeveloped to make the most of Itanium’s Epic (Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing) architecture.

 

At last week’s launch of the much-anticipated “Madison” release of the Itanium II 64-bit architecture, Richard Draycott, worldwide director for enterprise servers at Intel, admitted the performance of Java on Itanium was only now “competitive” to Xeon.

 

Bola Rotiba, senior analyst at Ovum, said, “Do not move to Itanium for your application server until the just-in-time compilers are ready.” She said users should look carefully at which applications they plan to deploy on Itanium II as some contain Java, which may not be able to run optimally.

"Before you buy 64-bit Intel, understand your system fully. Check where you have Java running," she said. Rotiba said certain applications such as SAP now offer Java interfaces, which could be affected by moving the application onto Itanium. But this problem is not limited to Java. Rotiba said the just-in-time technology used in Microsoft's .net architecture would also run inefficiently on Itanium-based systems.

Her concerns are reflected in the latest SpecjAppServer2002 Java benchmarks, in which Bea Weblogic Server 7.0 running on a two-processor HP rx5670 Itanium II server gave a total operations per second (Top) benchmark result of 408.02 at a cost of $1,075.17 (£643) per Top on HP-UX.

In comparison, the four-processor Xeon-powered IBM eServer xSeries x360 running Websphere 5.01 on Windows 2000 Advanced server delivered 448 Tops at a cost of $647.52 per Top.

Kieran Mockford, architectural software engineer at Microsoft, said a 64-bit just-in-time compiler was being developed for the next release of Visual Studio .net, but did give the release date. He claimed the approach Microsoft is taking would allow applications to run on any of the supported 32-bit and 64-bit systems without modification.


The problem with Java on Itanium

One problem with running Java on Itanium is the complexity of Intel's Epic 64-bit architecture. Epic expects a program's instructions to be ordered in a way that allows the chip to run several instructions at the same time. When a C or C++ application is converted to an executable program, a compiler converts the source code into machine instructions and optimises the performance for Epic.

 

Unfortunately, the Epic architecture does not lend itself well to just-in-time compilers used for Java because these generate a continuous stream of instructions.


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