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HP sees EPIC time for Microsoft

HP sees Montecito as a lever on Microsoft

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Montecito, the dual-core implementation of the Itanium processor, formally arrives this month and its chief protagonist, HP, is expected to launch a revamped range of Integrity servers using the processor early in Q4. Said to be a `significant revision’ of the Integrity range, it is likely to include further expansion beyond HP-UX, Linux and Windows with more development of the ex-Tandem Non-Stop technology.

HP is unsurprisingly bullish about using Montecito, pointing to recent benchmarks that show significantly improved performance and a reduction in power consumption. It is also willing to address some of the issues that the new dual-core processor may raise for users looking to run Windows in the datacentre – a role to which Microsoft certainly now aspires.

“People don’t laugh now at the idea of a Windows datacentre,” said Peter Hindle, HP’s enterprise solutions manager in the UK, “but it does mean that Microsoft has to understand the specific needs of that marketplace.”

That the potential for doubt about that understanding exists was demonstrated recently by Pat Gelsinger, head man for Intel’s Server Processor line, during a presentation at Stanford University reported in El Reg here. His reported conversation with Microsoft founder Bill Gates indicate that Microsoft’s operating system and applications may only just be facing up to a world beyond using lots of single processor boxes. But simply making single core processors faster runs up against the Laws of Physics – faster processors equals hotter processors. But in the datacentre arena, this runs up against the the increasingly punitive economics of energy consumption and heat management – two areas where even Intel would admit it has lagged behind its main rival, AMD.

“SQLServer 2005 actually runs faster on Itanium Integrity than on x86 servers,” Hindle said, “so it does look at though Microsoft is starting to understand where the advantages lie in the datacentre sector.” This does suggest that a datacentre-specific set of applications could emerge from Microsoft, possibly with a stronger orientation towards Itanium. Not even HP is expecting to see an Itanium version of major sellers such as Office or Exchange, where the x86 more than well suited for that job. Hindle suggests that the reasons for utilising Itanium’s EPIC architecture remain valid. Superscalar RISC architectures are running out of steam, and this is particularly the case with parallelisation. The multicore, even in the x86, is one way round this problem, but the EPIC architecture puts more of the parallelisation functionality into the compiler, leaving the processor to crunch numbers.

In Hindle’s view, if Microsoft has real aspirations in the datacentre/enterprise market then it has to start thinking in terms of fully exploiting both EPIC and multicore architectures. “For example,” he said, “if it really wants to break into the enterprise BI marketplace it really will have to think in terms of Itanium as the platform to choose.”

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