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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

IBM Corp is lining up the launch of its first xSeries server based on Intel Corp's 64-bit Itanium 2 processor for the first quarter of 2003, and has confirmed that it has dropped plans to bring its AIX Unix operating system to the Itanium processor platform.

IBM's vice president of xSeries high-performance servers, Deepak Advani, told ComputerWire that the company's first Itanium 2 server is likely to be a four-way machine and will be released in the first quarter of next year, coinciding with Microsoft Corp's delivery of the 64-bit Windows .NET Server operating system.

After numerous delays, disappointing performance statistics and a lack of applications, the expectations for Itanium 2 processor-based machines have diminished over the years, and Advani said that IBM will be aiming the server at early adopter customers in niche markets, rather than general-purpose computing.

"Itanium 2 does have certain advantages, such as 64-bit addressing and increased floating points, but what we are focusing on is not just building servers, but on creating optimized systems," he said. "We're looking at delivering end-to-end solution stacks and are selecting workloads that are likely to be deployed by the early adopters."

Niche markets to be targeted with the Itanium 2 bundles include high-performance technical computing and business intelligence, Advani said. While the company is starting out with a four-way server, it will add scalability to the Itanium line over time, he added. The servers will utilize IBM's EXA "Summit" chipset, which supports 32-bit Xeon MP and 64-bit Itanium processors, and is already used in its xSeries 440 line.

As well as Microsoft's Windows, the servers will also be available with the Linux operating system, which Advani confirmed is now IBM's preferred Unix for the Intel architecture. "We believe that Linux on Itanium 2 will address the Unix part of the market," he said. "The trend is to deliver economic benefit to customers and we believe that Linux on Intel will be much more interesting to customers than proprietary Unix on Intel."

Like all the other RISC processor-based Unix vendors, IBM spent a lot of research dollars on porting its AIX operating system to the Itanium architecture through Project Monterey, only to shelve the results after early performance statistics for Itanium reduced expectations and delayed customer demand. The years it took to see Itanium go from design to reality also coincided with the rise of Linux, which is much better suited to Intel architectures, says Advani, and represents a more attractive proposition to end users.

While the plans to bring AIX to Itanium had gone off the boil over time, there was still the possibility that the operating system could be released for Itanium 2 and be available on the xSeries line at some stage. Now Advani has ruled that out. "We don't have plans for AIX on Itanium 2," he said. "Our focus is Linux and Windows."

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