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AMD's Opteron faces uphill battle

Advanced Micro Devices has been struggling to find users for its 64-bit Opteron processor-based systems. Only IBM has said it intends to use Opteron, but only in niche high-performance and technical computing applications.

Hewlett-Packard officials said they have no plans to use Opteron and thereby help it compete against the 64-bit Itanium, which HP co-developed with Intel.

"It would just add a complication that is completely unnecessary," said Peter Blackmore, executive vice-president of HP's enterprise systems group.

Under its "adaptive enterprise" strategy, HP maintains that users are more concerned with choice of operating systems and the ability to manage those systems as one than they are with the underlying processing technology.

But not every HP user approves of the Itanium-only strategy.

"I think they should offer both," said Bill Thompson, senior Unix systems administrator at The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company.

Goodyear is interested in moving some 64-bit applications to Linux, and Thompson expected Opteron-based systems to be more economical than Itanium-based systems. "So we would like to see [HP] go to AMD," he said.

Sun Microsystems also said it has no plans to offer Opteron-based systems.

A key differentiator of AMD's Opteron is its ability to run 32- and 64-bit applications on the same machine, which proponents argue can help ease a transition to 64-bit applications. But high-performance users, not mainstream business customers, will be among the early adopters.

AMD, in fact, announced that the National Laboratory has selected the Opteron for two Linux clusters, including one running 2,800 processors.

IBM, which decided earlier this month to begin offering Opteron-based systems, believes that the high-performance market is "an excellent breeding ground" for the Opteron, said Debra Goldfarb, vice-president of products and strategy at IBM Deep Computing.

Whether Opteron becomes available on IBM's general-purpose business servers will depend on the market response and the availability of tools and applications tuned for it, said Goldfarb.

Patrick Thibodeau writes for Computerworld


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