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Intel eyes RISC server vendors

Intel eyes RISC server vendors

Intel is charging ahead with its goal to unseat "proprietary" vendors such as Sun Microsystems to become the leader in the enterprise server space, company officials said during a press event on Friday.

Intel officials speaking at a day outlining the company's server road map touted its strengths at the chip level with the Itanium and Xeon lines, and its ambitions to take on RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computing) vendors such as Sun.

Already, 88 per cent of servers sold today are Intel-based, and $21 billion of Intel servers were sold during the past four quarters, the executives said.

Battling Sun and RISC technology has been a core strategy for Intel of late. 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 Sun Fire 3800 and V880 systems offered significantly better price-performance than the Sun boxes. Itanium 2, due later this year, delivers approximately 50 per cent more than the fastest Sun processor at a lower price, said Vaughn Mackie, Intel's enterprise platform marketing manager.

Sun officials disputed Intel's claims, noting the company does not even own the Sparc CPU architecture; it is owned by the independent industry group Sparc International, said Sue Kunz, director of marketing for processor products at Sun.

Sparc processor shipments, including those in embedded systems, amount to more than 10 million a year and Sun only accounts for about 10 percent of that total, Kunz said. She said she did not know what percentage of Sparc servers bear the Sun nameplate. Other companies such as Fujitsu and Tatung have manufactured Sparc systems, she said.

Sun officials also panned 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-per cent market share figure.

Intel's Xeon processor, featuring additional caches and hyper-threading, is focused on the server market for systems ranging from less than $1,000 to approximately $50,000. Itanium 2 is intended for servers priced from roughly $50,000 to more than $500,000.

Intel believes Moore's Law of scaling processor power will continue unabated, and that Intel's chips can scale to 10GHz with its NetBurst microarchitecture.

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 been 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.

With its Itanium 2 platform, the company anticipates upcoming announcements from hardware companies of 10 systems featuring 16- and 32-way processing and more.

Itanium 2 can address a petabyte of information, Mackie said. He added that he is aware of a system based on Itanium 2 that manages 96 physical gigabytes of data.

The chip features larger integer and cache capabilities and more registers and execution units, Mackie said. "The end result is the number of instructions per clock cycle that this processor is capable of generating is greater than anything else in the marketplace," he said.

"The architecture has been scaled in multiple dimensions to address larger data sets, more complex data sets," said Mackie.

Approximately 20 hardware companies ship Itanium systems now 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.

With Xeon, Intel wants to extend it with 4- and 8-way multiprocessing, while Itanium 2 is intended to support systems with up to 32 processors or more, according to Intel.

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

Intel officials also used the event to present road maps for several different products and technologies:

-- By 2007, Intel chips will hold 1 billion transistors.

-- Itanium 2 successors include Madison/Deerfield in 2003, featuring significantly larger caches; Montecito in 2004; and at least two more processors along with multi-threading and multi-core plans. The Itanium road map emphasizes 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.

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