HP's Integrity leads third-generation Itanium charge

Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Dell are leading the charge to announce new products to accompany Intel's public unveiling of the...

Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Dell are leading the charge to announce new products to accompany Intel's public unveiling of the third-generation of its 64-bit Itanium processor, codenamed Madison, today (30 June).

HP's "Integrity" systems will range from single-processor servers up to the much-anticipated 64-way HP Integrity Superdome system. HP will also unveil a new Itanium 2 workstation, the zx6000, as well as plans to upgrade its line of ProLiant servers to the next generation of 2.0GHz to 2.8GHz Xeon MP microprocessors which Intel is announcing today.

Itanium systems have not yet appeared in many server rooms because of a lack of enthusiasm for Intel's Epic (explicitly parallel instruction computing) instruction set, introduced with the first Itanium chip in May 2001.

With software companies like Microsoft, PeopleSoft and Siebel Systems now supporting Itanium, and with Dell's decision to ship its first Itanium 2 system, Intel's 64-bit chip seems to be gaining momentum.

"People love to look back at the first generation of Itanium and bash it," said HP enterprise storage and server group vice president of marketing Mark Hudson, "but if you look at the current version of the road map, it's extremely sound.

"If you look at the first couple of generations, you had something that was in its preteen days, and then the second generation was the teenage phase. Now you're in your early to mid-20s," he added.

Customers seem cautiously optimistic, at best. Tim Eitel, chief information officer of Raymond James Financial, said his company expected to roll out a data warehousing application on Madison systems this October, but for the moment is holding off on converting its back-office applications to the new system.

"We're certainly not going to risk the business on something until its tried and true," he said.

Ultimately, Eitel has faith in Intel's 64-bit processor. The fivefold performance increase his company saw after moving a prototype of its data warehousing system from 32-bit to Itanium systems was enough to convince his team. "We feel that this is where the world is headed, and this gives us the opportunity to get there sooner," he added.

Not everyone is headed for Itanium right away, however. "Itanium needs to have a track record of performance, reliability, and mature software ports before we will consider it for any system," said Ray Duncan, director of technology and architecture for enterprise information systems at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre. He cited Itanium's "dismal track record with existing 32-bit applications", as one of the reasons he had no plans to adopt Itanium 2.

Duncan's demand for 32-bit performance is not unique, analysts said. The success of Intel's own Xeon line of processors has made the conversion to Itanium less appealing to some customers. Not everyone in the enterprise will need the kind of performance that 64-bit systems deliver, which is most evident in database and memory-intensive applications.

"There was a point when if you wanted to do enterprise computing, you had to do it on 64-bit machines," said Charles King, an analyst with The Sageza Group, an industry research firm. The success of the Xeon processors has proved that there is indeed a sweet spot for 32-bit machines in the enterprise, and Itanium might have had broader adoption had it hit the market before Xeon, as Intel initially planned, he said.

Advanced Micro Devices's 64-bit Opteron processor, which boasts superior 32-bit performance to Itanium, is also putting pressure on Intel, King said. "Opteron is selling for 40% less than Itanium and offering not only native 32-bit support, but pretty significant 64-bit performance."

The poor 32-bit performance of Itanium compared with Opteron "was something of a public relations black eye for Intel", King said. "I don't know that it's going to drive a huge number of Intel customers to AMD, but it did allow a company that's always played second fiddle to Intel to say, 'We've got you this time'," he said.

Intel is working to improve Itanium's 32-bit execution: The day after Opteron's launch, it announced plans to develop IA-32 Execution Layer software. Ultimately, however, customers will buy Itanium systems for their 64-bit rather than 32-bit performance, said Jason Waxman, Intel's director of enterprise multiprocessor platform marketing.

"The approach that we took on Itanium was to deliver the best enterprise performance possible, and that meant optimising for 64-bit solutions. That remains our focus," he said.

The Madison processors will include:

  • A 1.5GHz processor with 6Mbytes of level three (L3) cache priced at US$4,226.
  • A 1.4GHz chip with 4Mbytes of L3 cache priced at $2,247.
  • A 1.3GHz chip with 3Mbytes L3 cache priced at $1,338.

The new Xeon MP chips will include:

  • A 2.8GHz processor with 2Mbytes of L3 cache, costing $3,692.
  • A 2.5GHz model with 1Mbyte of L3 cache, costing $1,980.
  • A 2GHz model with 1Mbyte of L3 cache, priced at $1,338.

Today's system announcements will include:

  • HP's Integrity Superdome, which will come in 16, 32, and 64-processor configurations when it begins shipping this August. Pricing will start at $262,000. The other items in the Integrity product line, the four-processor rx5670 server, and the two-processor rx2600 will be available immediately. Pricing starts at $27,000 and $5,400 respectively. HP's new Itanium 2 workstation, the zx6000, will be available today from $4,895.

  • Dell's two-way PowerEdge 3250 will be the company's first Itanium server released since the launch of Itanium 2 last July. The PowerEdge 3250 will be available today, with prices starting at $5,999. Pricing for an 8-node clustered configuration will start at $88,600, Dell said. Dell released a server based on Merced, the first version of Itanium, but declined to adopt Itanium 2 until now.

  • Dell will also start selling PowerEdge 6650 and 6600 servers containing the new Xeon MP processors today. Pricing for these systems will start at $4,999 for the 6650 and $5,499 for the 6600.

  • IBM will announce that its eServer x450 will be available with Madison Itanium 2 processors. The company will also announce the x382, a two-way Itanium 2 server designed for Linux clusters, and the x445, a 16-way Xeon server that IBM says will scale to 32 processors by the end of the year.

  • Unisys will introduce its ES7000/400 line of servers today, starting with a four-way model that can scale up to 16 Madison Itanium 2 processors. The company plans to release three servers, the 410, 420, and 430. The 410 will come with between four and eight Madison processors and up to 64G bytes of memory for a starting price of $55,000. The 420 uses between eight and 16 Madison processors and up to 128G bytes of memory, with a starting price of $115,000. The largest server, the 430, is available with up to 32 processors configured in two 16-processor domains. It has a starting price of $220,000.

  • NEC and Silicon Graphics  will announce plans to integrate the new Madison processors into their existing Itanium 2 product lines.

Tom Krazit and Robert McMillan write for IDG News Service

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