Opteron smooths path to 64-bit computing

Advanced Micro Devices has emerged from Intel's shadow to become a 'credible tier-one server processor supplier' as a result of...

Advanced Micro Devices has emerged from Intel's shadow to become a 'credible tier-one server processor supplier' as a result of its successful Opteron chip.

Intel has dominated for years, grabbing 90% of the market for IA-32 servers. Opteron shipments have doubled each quarter since the product was launched, according to research firm IDC. However, with just 35,000 Opteron servers shipping in 2003, Opteron still represents a tiny fraction of the entire 3.26 million-unit IA-32 server market.

By not breaking binary compatibility with the millions of existing IA-32 applications, Opteron has given customers a less painful route to 64-bit computing than the one provided by Intel's Itanium 2 processor. AMD's hardware is also uniquely positioned to take advantage of the move toward clustered applications.

Software suppliers such as Oracle, IBM and SAP have been working to make their applications work with clusters of low-cost systems.

Enterprise users are beginning to show interest in Opteron for these types of applications because of its low cost as well as its strong I/O capability and 64-bit processing capabilities, said Dave Driggers, chief executive officer of Verari Systems in San Diego.

Driggers, whose company sells AMD and Intel cluster systems, says Opteron systems represented about 20% of his company's business in 2003. That number has jumped to 40% in the first quarter of 2004. "Opteron has gained quite a bit of market share within our company," he said. "There's heavy interest for database, for file servers and traditional enterprise products."

He added, "I think the biggest challenge for Opteron is getting into the mindset of the enterprise that they are an enterprise player. They've always been considered the generic Intel product."

By the end of the year, AMD hopes to extend its toehold in the enterprise to include four-way servers. Most Opteron servers at present are one-way or two-way systems clustered together for greater performance.

The multiple Hypertransport links on each 800 series Opteron processor allows system builders to link the chips directly together, cutting down on latency caused on other interconnects, said Ben Williams, director of AMD’s server/workstation business segment.

Customers running four-way or eight-way servers from other Risc (reduced instruction set computing) vendors can switch to two-way or four-way Opteron servers, and not only cut their hardware costs but reduce their software costs in per-processor pricing configurations, Williams said.

Opteron’s most visible success story has come from AMD itself. The company has now been profitable for two straight quarters following nine straight quarters of losses.

"AMD is viewed as a credible tier one server processor supplier, which certainly wasn’t the case a year ago," said Dean McCarron, principal analyst with Mercury Research.

Tom Krazit and Robert McMillan write for IDG News Service

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