Intel Pumps Itanium

by David Needle

The much-hyped Montecito release is now available in five flavors, and the OEMs are lining up their wares.

Intel's partners rolled out lots of big iron for the unveiling of the latest Itanium processor. The long-awaited dual-core version of Itanium was announced at a media event in San Francisco Tuesday. It shared the stage with seven systems from different vendors, representing some eight tons of computer hardware.

Intel  showed off its new Itanium2 9000 series, which was developed under the codename "Montecito." The new series doubles the performance while delivering a 20 percent drop in energy use compared to the earlier single-core version. The 9000 series Itaniums also feature built-in virtualization. The flagship 9050 has triple the cache, 24 megabytes, of the earlier version.

The 9000 series was originally expected to ship in 2005 but was beset by development problems that caused several delays. Pat Gelsinger, general manager of Intel's Digital Enterprise Group, acknowledged the long road to get to the 9000's release, but said the early feedback has been very positive.

"We've gone through the hard maturation of a new architecture and now end users are saying, 'Hey, this thing rocks'," said Gelsinger.

Intel called the 9000 the world's most intricate product design and Gelsinger said it's a "technical tour-de-force." It's the only processor with more than 1 billion transistors — 1.72 billion to be exact.

The 9000 series includes five dual-core Itaniums with different performance specs, from the high-end 9050 to the low-end 9015 (priced in quantity at $3,692 to $749, respectively). Intel said pricing is in line with the earlier single core Itanium. The 9040, with a smaller, 18 megabyte cache but the same 1.6 GHz speed as the 9050, is priced at $1,980.

Gelsinger made a point of positioning Itanium systems for mission-critical computing tasks and noted its growing application base. "Applications are now an incredibly strong part of the Itanium story, with 8,200 applications coming from thousands of companies."

Intel executives also repeatedly hammered a theme of equating Itanium with freedom for high-performance computer customers.

"We're saying freedom in the sense of enterprise customers having a horizontal ecosystem and being able too choose from different vendors," Kirk Skaugen, vice president and general manager of Intel's Server Platform Group, told internetnews.com. "Itanium is an alternative for those customers fed up with the high cost of proprietary solutions."

Brian Cox, director of worldwide server marketing at HP, said Itanium is offering a standard architecture for developers across multiple vendors. "Basically, it's a re-invention of the plug-compatible mainframe."

IDC analyst Christopher Willard is more impressed with Itanium systems' price/performance advantages than the choice of vendors.

"The high-performance computing customer, in all our surveys, tends to be far more interested in price/performance," Willard told internetnews.com. "These are big companies who tend to want to stay with the vendors they are comfortable with and already have a relationship with. That said, to the extent competition produces better products it's always a good thing."

Business intelligence software company SAS is bullish on Itanium for performance reasons. The SAS Enterprise Intelligence Platform has been optimized for the 9000 series resulting in what the Cary, NC company said is a significant improvement in performance. Jim Watts, the Intel Global Alliance Manager at SAS, said Itanium systems are letting customers like the U.S. Census ask questions it never would have been able to before.

"If they wanted to look at a year's worth of data, it could take five to six days to see results, but with these new systems it's more like a day," said Watts.

Intel said 70 percent of the world's Global 100 companies use Itanium-based systems. An industry consortium, largely funded by Intel and HP, has committed to spending $10 billion on hardware and development support of the Itanium architecture through 2010.

The OEMs Respond

HP, Hitachi, NEC, SGI, Bull, Fujitsu, Fujitsu Siemens, and Unisys all showed systems expected to ship later this summer.

Fujitsu, for example, refreshed its PrimeQuest line with three new servers that make up the PrimeQuest 500 series — the PrimeQuest 520, 540, and 580.

The servers boast twice the performance of their 400-counterparts, Senior Vice President, Marketing, Richard McCormack told ServerWatch. Main memory has been doubled to 2 TB, and the servers offer up to 64 processor cores in a maximum of 16 partitions.

Like other servers in the PrimeQuest family the 500 series offers eXtended PARtitioning (XPAR) capabilities that enable "partioning at the sub-board level in granular chunks," McCormack said.

The servers are also backward-compatible in the same rack as others in the line.

Fujitsu plans to release the servers in September, the same time as Montecito is scheduled to ship.

This article was originally published on internetnews.

Amy Newman contributed to this story

This article was originally published on Thursday Jul 20th 2006
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