Intel eyes RISC server vendors

Intel is pushing ahead with its goal to unseat "proprietary" vendors, such as Sun Microsystems, in a bid to become the leading...

Intel is pushing ahead with its goal to unseat "proprietary" vendors, such as Sun Microsystems, in a bid to become the leading company in the enterprise server space.

Outlining the company's server roadmap, Intel officials reinforced the platform's strengths at chip level with the Itanium and Xeon lines, and stated their ambitions to take on RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computing) vendors such as Sun.

Already, 88% of servers sold today are Intel-based and $21bn (£14bn) of Intel servers were sold during the past four quarters.

Competing with Sun and RISC technology has been a core strategy for Intel recently. Intel is focusing methodically on capturing Sun accounts, stressed Intel's Lisa Hambrick, director of enterprise processor marketing. "If you want to capture a Sun account, it takes much longer to get that account, but you keep it for years," Hambrick said.

Company officials presented slides indicating that an Intel Itanium 2 system similarly configured to Sun's Fire 3800 and V880 systems offered significantly better price-performance than the Sun boxes. Itanium 2, due later this year, delivers approximately 50% more than the fastest Sun processor at a lower price, Vaughn Mackie, Intel's enterprise platform marketing manager, said.

Sun officials disputed Itanium's market share and performance capabilities. "They're certainly not even close to having measurable market share (with Itanium)," said Marc Tremblay, Sun chief architect for the processor product group. Itanium, Tremblay said, is a "big chip and burns a lot of power". Sun officials also questioned Intel's claimed 88% market share figure.

The enterprise server space presents a great opportunity for Intel, even during tough economic times, Intel officials said. "Regardless of the economy, this market is growing," Hambrick said.

"In a constrained time, people are looking for value. The Intel architecture has proved to be an attractive solution," added Tom Garrison, director of enterprise platform marketing at Intel.

Customers want RISC performance at Intel's volume economies, and that is what Intel is offering with Itanium 2, Hambrick said.

Approximately 20 hardware companies now ship Itanium systems and that number will grow, said Mackie. OS support will be available for Windows, HP-UX and Linux OSes, he said.

Software for Itanium is available from companies such as Oracle, i2 Technologies, SAP, IBM and SAS Institute. Other companies such as BEA Systems, BMC Software, Tivoli Systems and Computer Associates International are planning support, according to Intel.

Itanium 2 chipsets will be available from Intel itself as well as from IBM, NEC, Hewlett-Packard and Hitachi as well as Bull and Unisys, which are working together on a chipset.

Intel is planning to utilise technologies such as dual core processing and may utilise mobile technologies in server chips, company officials said. Blade systems and the telecommunications marketplace also are on Intel's priority list.

Intel officials also presented roadmaps for several different products and technologies:

Itanium 2 successors will include Madison/Deerfield in 2003; Montecito in 2004; and at least two more processors along with multi-threading and multi-core plans. The Itanium roadmap emphasises performance improvements while protecting investments through processor upgrades, according to Intel.

Xeon will be followed by Nocona, a processor based on 90-nanometer process technology, and Gallatin, a successor to Xeon processor MP that will be based on 1.3-micron process technology. Xeon clock frequencies will exceed 3GHz.

Read more on PC hardware