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Server competition heats up

HP's Opteron-driven Proliant kit adds spice

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Advanced Micro Devices must be happy. After 18 months of secret development and the biting of many corporate tongues at the Intel Developer Forum last week, Hewlett-Packard has finally announced it will deliver variants of its ProLiant X86 servers that use AMD's 64-bit Opteron processors. The server market is suddenly getting more interesting...

Like rivals IBM and Sun Microsystems, HP is trying to leverage the Opteron where it can do the most good while not upsetting the whole server applecart.

It is hard to say whether or not HP's support for Opteron is a watershed event for AMD because we will only know in hindsight after the tier-one server vendors ramp up sales and customers gain experience with Opteron machines.

Intel is not going to take the threat of the Opteron standing still, as the launch of the 64-bit extended Xeon DP and MP processors last week demonstrates.

What can honestly be predicted at this early stage of the Opteron game is that the increasingly enthusiastic adoption of Opterons by IBM, Sun, and now HP is going to cause a feedback loop that - unless something goes radically wrong with the design or the manufacturing of these processors - will help them get established in the marketplace as a credible and reasonable alternative to Intel's Xeon processors.

With these three vendors supporting Opteron, the pressure will now be on Dell to also adopt Opteron to compete for sales, particularly for workloads that require dense packing and high floating point performance. Competition is good. Intel, which has a virtual monopoly on desktop and server processors, is going to get some, and thanks to AMD's attacks, it is going to give some back, too.

There is going to be a lot of tongue-wagging about what this all means for the Itanium processor that Intel and HP have been championing. People are going to say things that will make you cock your head to the side like a perplexed dog.

Here's one example from yesterday's announcement from Scott Stallard, senior vice president and general manager of HP's Enterprise Storage and Servers division: "Our commitment and plans for Itanium do not change with these announcements. In fact, they are strengthened."

Whether or not Intel or HP like to think about it or admit it publicly, when it comes to Windows and Linux workloads, the case for Itanium has clearly been undercut by the Opterons and now the Xeon-64s, particularly for entry and midrange machines that make up the bulk of shipments.

How deep those cuts go depends on how well or poorly the Windows and Linux channels do in adapting their applications for Itanium and how the advent of Xeon-64 and the growing support for Opteron both change where and when application providers support what particular chip architecture. We'll know better in about 18 months, after the ecosystems for Xeon-64, Opteron, and Itanium grow or atrophy.

To put it bluntly, this whole server racket is getting interesting, and more so by the week. And that is good for customers and probably good for vendors over the long haul.

But as this X86 server market heats up with competition and choice, remember that anyone who says that they can predict the life or death of any of these platforms over the next couple of years is unacquainted with the ups and downs of the computer business, or is trying to sell you a bill of goods, or is just plain stupid. The IT biz doesn't work that way. AMD is getting its shot at the big time, and now, all it has to do is not screw it up.

Source: ComputerWire/Datamonitor

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