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AMD VP sees more Opteron growth and a Dell win

Time to chump Intel

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Into the Valley AMD has enjoyed a magical run over the past two years. Its Opteron server chip moved from being a plaything in IBM's server line to becoming a driver of sales for the likes of HP and Sun Microsystems and a major force at a host of other companies. Start-ups have bet their futures on the chip, as have venerable hardware makers like Cray. A whole crop of third-party suppliers such as Pathscale and DRC have cropped up to support Opteron's Hypertransport technology, giving AMD an edge over Intel.

This server chip bounty, however, will come under siege later this year when Intel releases a new fleet of processors designed with catching up to AMD in mind. No one yet knows exactly how well Intel will compete. It's slideware versus hardware at this point.

That said, AMD head of sales and marketing Henri Richard knows that Intel means business. In this interview, he discusses AMD's plan of attack in the coming months and his strategy for keeping interest in Opteron strong. In addition, Richard discusses how HP, Sun, IBM and Google stack up on the Opteron landscape and makes a pledge that AMD will win Dell as a customer.

Last but not least, Richard tells us why the anti-trust lawsuit against Intel was the right thing to do.

El Reg: Intel has promised customers new server and desktop chips in the second half of this year that will put some serious pressure on you. How quickly do you expect the new Intel gear to come to market?

HR: Their story is not coherent.

On the one hand, they are making a lot of noise about technology they are not shipping. And, on the other hand, they are saying that that technology will be 20 per cent of shipments by the end of the year. That's not exactly a stellar ramp.

What remains to be seen is if they will put a few parts out there to slow down the market, or do they have a much better manufacturing plan, and they want to attack by surprise? Or is the reality that it's a lot of vaporware, and they don't have that many parts?

I don't know. I don't think anybody knows expect for Intel.

I certainly am not betting on them failing. That is not a good strategy. I respect the competition and assume they will deliver on their promise.

El Reg: When this performance gap between Opteron and Xeon does level out, will you be able to attract customers at the same rate as you have in the past?

HR: I think even if we didn't attract new customers, for whatever reason, then going deep and wide into the current customers is plenty to keep us busy for years to come. We are now in 90 per cent of the Fortune 100 and 57 per cent of the Fortune 1000. We have plenty of work to do.

Beyond that, end user decisions are not driven strictly by benchmarks. Depending on the workloads at a given customers, it's possible that they might use Intel technology for one part of their data center and AMD in another area based on where the two architectures shine the best.

We are going to maintain the lead in many areas, and we'll see whether there is a tie or not in other areas. It is a little too early to tell.

If you look at how OEMs are planning their roadmaps as a good indication of relative competitiveness and perception of our ability to win in the marketplace, I think we have a very solid second half. If you look at where we will be at the end of December relative to where we are at the end of June, we will have many more platforms out there.

I have been saying that there is a direct correlation between the number of platforms and out market share.

[Hear Richard talk more about the jockeying for position between AMD and Intel here.]

El Reg: Are you disappointed with IBM's limited use of Opteron?

HR: Absolutely not. IBM is an excellent partner. Each one of our partners have a completely different strategy with Opteron. It's good.

El Reg: What do you think IBM's hang up is with not broadening its Opteron lineup more aggressively?

HR: IBM had to make a reasonable decision in terms of amortizing past investments.

El Reg: Their X3 chipset for Xeons?

HR: Yes.

So, of course, we would like to see more Opteron presence in the IBM lineup. But when you have spent a significant amount of money in developing proprietary technology, it's logical for you to try to get that investment back.

IBM has a different strategy, but they are an excellent partner, and I am very confident about the future of Opteron inside the IBM corporation.

El Reg: Our major issue with AMD at this point is your reluctance to talk about what is coming down the road. You were more than happy to talk about 64-bit extensions early and dual-core parts early. Why aren't you being more specific about what you have to do to counter Intel's improvements?

HR: First off, because we don't feel as much as the outside world does a need to counter. Right now it is more asking Intel what they are going to do to counter AMD than the opposite.

We are in front and gaining share.

El Reg: Why admit then that they will put more pressure on you and talk about how Intel will catch up in some areas. Why not talk about what you have cooking instead?

HR: I am not in favor of hyping the future too much. We have a lot of good parts to sell today.

I think Intel hurt themselves in the first quarter pretty badly. What they essentially said to any faithful Intel customer is, "wait". If you are a smart Intel customer, why in the world would you buy anything in Q1, Q2 and even Q3. Why? You better wait.

They told the entire world that their current products are crap, and the next thing is much better.

Shot of Henri Richard

I don't have any intention to go tell my customers that the stuff we have now is not as good as what we'll have tomorrow.

To your point though, I think we have a been a little quiet, and our intention is to make a lot of noise at our June analyst conference.

[Hear Richard dive deeper into what he sees as Intel's woes here.]

El Reg: Rank these companies in order of who is the largest Opteron customer. Sun, HP, IBM and Google.

HR: No comment.

El Reg: Can you tell us who is the largest Opteron customer?

HR: No, I don't think we can do that. I'll give you a hint. You can look at those various partners' product lineups and that gives you a sense.

El Reg: We think HP is the largest customer.

HR: That's probably a realistic expectation.

El Reg: How big a customer is Google?

HR: Well, you know, we have never made any comments about Google being a customer. If they were our customer, they obviously would be very big.

El Reg: Are you denying that they're a customer?

HR: Well, we don't make comments on customers.

El Reg: You guys put out customer win press releases all the time.

HR: We have a lot of embedded customers around the world that don't want us to disclose the nature of their relationship. I am not saying that is the case with Google.

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