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IBM falls in love with Opteron all over again

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Only the wizards inside of IBM can answer why the company went whole hog with Opteron at this juncture.

You can understand the decision on four-socket systems where Opteron still beats the heck out of Xeon. Even Dell gave Opteron the big squeeze on the four-socket front.

But Intel just released the Woodcrest version of Xeon to customers, shipping a product that trounces Opteron on many benchmarks. So why has IBM now decided to have Opteron-based systems compete against its mainstream Xeon-based gear? Xeon is finally where it needs to be.

"The short answer is that AMD is clearly here to stay and, if you're going to be a full-service shop you need to sell both Coke and Pepsi," said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata.

But why now? Why didn't IBM go ahead and buy into Opteron sooner given its obvious market share gains?

"That's a tougher one," Haff said. "My take is that they weren't sure how things were going to pan out and didn't want the cost and complexity of adding a full-boat Opteron product line if they could avoid it. But HP and more recently Sun's successes with Opteron changed their mind."

IBM's server GM Susan Whitney kept saying that new Opteron servers fit under IBM's Enterprise X umbrella, during the press conference. As evidence of IBM's Opteron technology investment, she pointed to advances such as IBM's pass through memory module that provides near linear performance on four-ways and delivers 30 per cent performance per watt improvements. Whitney also flagged some patent pending technology called accelerated memory that provides access to all DIMMs at 667MHz. "With systems from other vendors, once you go beyond four DIMMs, you revert back to 533MHz access," Whitney said. IBM expects customers to see 25 per cent better memory access throughput on larger servers.

These investments, however, don't match up to the hundreds of millions that IBM spent creating the X3-based Xeon servers.

AMD's CEO Hector Ruiz, present at the New York event, was more than happy to overlook IBM's past Opteron reluctance. IBM has freshened up AMD's Opteron story at a pivotal moment for the company. Right when Woodcrest seemed to have crushed Opteron's momentum, IBM stepped in with a delivered a big customer win to AMD.

Of all the Tier 1s to save Opteron now, IBM may have seemed the most unlikely. ®

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